Anyone who has been on a cruise lately no doubt remembers the various paperwork they had to complete and sign before boarding and departure. Buried in there somewhere was probably a waiver or two, purporting to limit the ship owner’s liability in the event of an accident. In a recent case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explained that these waivers are not necessarily enforceable.
Ms. Arnold and her boyfriend were passengers on a three-day cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas that departed from Port Canaveral on February 25, 2011. The couple participated in a jet ski tour during the ship’s stop at Coco Cay, an island in the Bahamas owned by RC. The tour was designed to operate in “follow-the-leader” fashion, with each jet ski spaced out from one another, a tour guide leading the way and a “chaser” ensuring that the jet skis remained properly spaced. When the jet ski in front of them slowed, however, Arnold and her boyfriend also slowed. Arnold was injured when she was struck from behind by another jet ski.
RC brought an action for exoneration from or limitation of liability, arguing that the company could not be held liable for Arnold’s injuries because she signed a waiver before embarking on the jet ski tour. Specifically, the waiver form stated that Arnold agreed to release RC and its employees from any action “arising from any accident or injury . . . in any way connected with her rental, participation, use, or operation of the jet ski.”
The court disagreed. 46 U.S.C. § 30509 provides that the owner and operator of “a vessel transporting passengers between ports in the United States, or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country” may not include a contract provision limiting its liability for injury or death caused by its negligence. Relying heavily on Johnson v. Royal Caribbean – a case in which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the Southern District’s ruling enforcing “a similarly broad waiver” related to an on-board surfing simulator – the court found that section 30509 applied in the current case.
“Royal is indisputably the owner of a vessel transporting passengers between a United States port and a foreign port — the Monarch of the Seas traveled from a Florida port to a Bahamas port…And the Waiver in the present case…clearly seeks to limit Royal’s liability for injuries allegedly caused by its negligence,” the court explained.
The waiver issue is often at the heart of any suit for injuries incurred while cruising and can determine what, if any legal remedies are available. If you were injured on a cruise, the experienced Fort Lauderdale cruise ship accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help. We take pride in responsive, diligent and cost-effective representation. The firm’s client-centered approach, combined with vast personal injury experience, will help you to safely and confidently navigate the judicial system’s waters after an accident at sea or on land.
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