If you suffer damages relating to a cruise ship, you will quickly learn that the laws that apply to cruise ship operators are considerably different from most personal injury cases.
It is important to understand these differences, and to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney with experience in maritime and admiralty law in order to determine your best course of action.
Contracts of adhesion
One of the most significant factors affecting passengers’ claims against cruise ship lines is what are called contracts of adhesion, or non-negotiable contracts that are agreed upon when the passenger purchases a ticket for a cruise. Some of the most significant of these agreements are:
- Forum selection
- Choice of law
- Shortened statutes of limitations
Each of these factors is considered a contractual agreement, and is normally described on the ticket for the cruise. While each of these stipulations can significantly affect your ability to receive a fair settlement, it is possible to work within the contract, and in some cases, to have certain stipulations of the contract ruled invalid, with the assistance of a capable, experienced cruise ship injury attorney.
One common stipulation is forum selection, which is a solution to cases in which there are two or more locations in which the case could be heard. Forum selection is a legal principle in which two parties agree, contractually, to settle any grievances in a specific venue, or location.
For example, if a passenger from Oklahoma departs on a cruise from a port in California, operated by a cruise line with headquarters in Florida, the cruise line may stipulate in its contract that cases must be tried in the Florida courts.
Choice of law
Because cruise lines often operate out of ports of call in many different locations around the world, many cruise lines may stipulate in their contracts that any conflicts that arise must be resolved under the laws of another country. This is different from forum selection, in that it does not affect the location of the court, but the laws under which the court decides your case.
As such, while your forum selection clause may specify that your case be heard in Florida, the laws under which the case is judged might be the laws of another country.
Shortened statutes of limitations
The standard statute of limitations for maritime incidents is three years. However, many cruise lines include a contractual stipulation on their tickets that shortens this limitation to one year. These limited timeframes in which you can bring suit make it all the more important that you seek competent legal advice as soon as possible. Without a qualified attorney to help you determine how and where your case must be heard, your time may run out before you’ve even figured out where and how to file your case.
Challenging contracts of adhesion
While agreements such as those described above are often upheld by US courts, non-negotiated contracts between unequal parties, such as the contract that appears on your ticket, can be ruled unenforceable in certain cases.
In some cases, for example, if your cruise ship injury attorney can show that the stipulations in the contract are designed to evade responsibility, or that your agreement was made under duress, you may be able to argue your case in a different venue or under more favorable laws than those specified in your contract.
If you have been injured or suffered a loss due to negligence on the part of a cruise ship operator, it is essential that you discuss your case with a qualifiedcruise ship injury attorney to preserve your right to an equitable resolution.