Because cruise companies often are based in foreign countries and operate their ships in navigable waters, there are many complex issues that have nothing to do with the merits, such as jurisdiction, choice of law, and venue issues. Personal jurisdiction essentially refers to the authority of the court to exercise power over the defendant. While this issue is fundamental to pursuing a lawsuit against a cruise excursion operator, the issue can be particularly difficult for a plaintiff. Excursions offer cruise passengers many opportunities for tours, recreation, and adventure, but these outings frequently occur in foreign countries that lack the safety laws and practices observed by U.S. tour operators. In this blog, our Miami cruise injury lawyers analyze an appellate court decision regarding personal jurisdiction of an excursion operator.
In the Florida 3rd DCA case of Haughey v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., et al, a passenger bought a ticket in Puerto Rico to take part in an Island Sea-Faris tour excursion on Antigua. The trial court denied a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction over the excursion operator. The Managing Director of the tour company submitted an affidavit in support of the motion contending the company had no contacts with Florida. The excursion operator argued that no statute justified personal jurisdiction nor did the company have sufficient contacts with Florida.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that Royal Caribbean sold tickets for its excursions via a website and telephone calls with individuals in Florida. The transactions also were processed at Royal Caribbean's Florida substations. The cruise line also sold tickets to the excursions in Florida territorial waters. The cruise line paid Sea-Faris for the excursions sold to its passengers. The plaintiff introduced evidence that the tour company also sold tickets to passengers of other cruise lines in Florida. The plaintiff finally pointed to two separate contracts between Royal Caribbean and Sea-Faris in which the excursion operator agreed to indemnify the cruise company for injuries to passengers during the tours.
The appellate court analyzed most of these contacts between Sea-Faris and the cruise company and found that most of the contacts were by Royal Caribbean rather than the tour operator. The plaintiff tried to suggest an agency relationship between the parties, so the Royal Caribbean contacts referenced by the plaintiff could be ascribed to the excursion company. The court also rejected the notion that the contracts executed between Royal Caribbean and Sea-Faris provided a basis for personal jurisdiction. The court reasoned that the plaintiff was not entitled to sue under either contract because it was not a party nor given the right to sue by the terms of the contracts. Further, one of the contracts was executed long after the plaintiff was injured, so it could not have created the right to sue for the injury given it was executed subsequent in time.
The court ultimately ruled that personal jurisdiction could not be established based on statute nor the contacts the excursion company had with Florida. This is a common problem when cruise passengers pursue negligence claims against shore excursion operators. The prospect of seeking compensation in a foreign country with unfamiliar and less accommodating laws is not an appealing option. If you are injured while on a shore excursion outside the U.S., you should seek immediate legal advice from an experienced cruise ship lawyer in Miami.
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