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Our Lawyers Analyze Florida Appellate Decision Upholding Dismissal of Slip and Fall Lawsuit against Hotel Based on Forum Selection Clause

Resorts and cruise ships departing from Miami offer recreation, relaxation, and excitement, but negligence by staff and management in designing or maintaining the premises can lead to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death. While an injured tourist might have the right to pursue a lawsuit against a resort, travelers should speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer because these legal claims can pose special challenges. Large resorts typically have guests sign contracts that contain provisions severely limiting their rights. 

In this blog, our Florida slip and fall accident attorneys focus on an appellate court decision that limited the option of a seriously injured plaintiff to litigating the case in a foreign country. The plaintiff in Feggestad v. Kerzner International Bahamas, LTD, et al. was injured when he slipped and fell on a sidewalk on the resort premises. He sought damages for his injuries while his wife sought compensation for loss of consortium.

The resort sought to have the case dismissed based on a forum selection clause that required any lawsuit for injuries incurred on the property be litigated in the Bahamas. A forum selection clause is a provision in a contract that mandates a lawsuit be litigated in a specific place. In evaluating whether a forum selection clause will be enforced, the court identified four grounds that justify non-enforcement of a forum selection provision. A forum selection clause will not be enforced if any of the following apply: (1) the plaintiff would be denied his day in court; (2) enforcement would run counter to public policy; (3) the agreement was the product of overreaching or fraud; or (4) the plaintiff would be left with no legal remedy.

The plaintiff argued that the forum selection clause should not be enforced because of misrepresentation by resort staff. The plaintiff received a confirming email for the reservation from the Bahamas resort. The email contained a "Terms and Conditions" provision that referred resort guests to review another document. The document referred to specified that any lawsuit related to the guest's stay on the premises could only be litigated in the Bahamas. The document also advised that guests would be required to sign a registration form with a similar provision at the resort.

The plaintiffs testified that when they checked into the hotel, they were informed by the hotel employee that a signature was required to authorize the billing of incidental charges to their guest room. The registration card contained a forum selection clause comparable to the one referenced in the confirmation email. The plaintiff argued that the court should not enforce the forum selection clause because the resort employee misrepresented the reason for having guests sign the registration form.

The trial court rejected the plaintiff's argument and granted the defendant's motion. The appellate court noted that the contract was entirely drafted by the resort. When only one party to an agreement with a forum selection clause participates in the drafting, the terms must be communicated in a manner reasonably calculated to inform the plaintiff of the provision. The guest must have a meaningful opportunity to learn of the provision and reject it. The appellate court pointed out that the plaintiff had multiple opportunities to learn the terms of the forum selection provision. The email confirmation alone was sufficient to satisfy the standard according to the court.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Personal Injury Victims from Negligent Resort Owners and Cruise Lines

This case demonstrates the complex contractual provisions that can impair your rights and limit your recovery, so you should seek an experienced attorney to protect your interests.

Our attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the full compensation our clients are entitled to under the law. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted many people with damage claims across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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