As cruise ship injury attorneys we often encounter problems relating to the "fine print" on a passage ticket. Our clients' rights and responsibilities are defined by those seemingly inconspicuous paragraphs filled with legalese. Your eyes easily glaze over at the very attempt to read the words that are much more significant than they appear at first blush. We advise our clients to take their time to read and try to understand the fine print before going on a voyage. You can readily forfeit important rights to which you are entitled if you are unaware of the contents of the ticket.
The passage ticket for a cruise line is more than just a notice allowing you access to the ship and a reservation in a stateroom. A passage ticket is a binding contract that is more than a reminder of when the ship departs and from which port. The contract language contained in the ticket is binding on both parties. Although you have not negotiated the specific terms of the contract, you must comply with the terms thereof. For example, you must give written notice to the cruise line within the specified time frame of injuries you suffered on board. Additionally, the ticket commonly binds the voyager to sue within one year from the date of the injury. Some tickets even force you to apply certain laws of a state or country. Lastly, you agree to sue in the court or courts delineated in the ticket even if filing the suit is utterly inconvenient for you.
The passenger seems to forfeit many rights to simply take a vacation. Cruise lines are big business. As with any business, their primary goal is to make money. They agree to provide you with a service for which you sometimes pay handsomely. As with many large companies, they do not want to spend time litigating claims filed by their customers. Therefore, the cruise lines developed this ticket language to dissuade passengers from filing claims against them. It is good business, and the courts have bought into it.
One recent example of how courts seem to protect cruise lines appears in the case of Estate of Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ltd. Mr. Myhra was a citizen of England and contracted Legionnaire's disease while cruising on the defendant's line. Mr. Myhra died as a result of the disease. The Estate of Mr. Myhra filed a lawsuit seeking damages in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The court dismissed the charges because the ticket package indicated that any lawsuits filed as a result of injuries suffered by the passenger must be filed in the Courts of England and Wales even though the ship left from the port of Miami.
The plaintiffs filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida because the plaintiff found the court more advantageous than filing in English courts. English courts would cap the damages a passenger can recover. Application of that rule would substantially limit the plaintiff's recovery. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the clauses in the ticket contract that informed passengers about where they can file a claim and what jurisdiction's laws apply were conspicuous enough to pass muster. As a result of the Court's decision, the Estate must file a lawsuit in England.
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