“This case begins with a shipwreck,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit recently explained in Scimone v. Carnival, a cruise ship accident case in which the court had to make a tough decision about jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
The two lawsuits at issue stemmed from the 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia, a cruise ship owned by Carnival that ran aground after striking rocks off the coast of Tuscany in Italy. A total of 23 people were killed in the accident and scores more were injured. Two groups of passengers – composed of 56 and 48 individuals respectively – filed actions against Carnival, alleging negligence and other tort claims.
Although the actions were originally filed in state court, the company removed both matters to a federal district court in Miami pursuant to CAFA. The law provides that a “mass action” – one involving 100 or more claimants and tried jointly – may be removed to federal court if it meets certain conditions. The plaintiffs later sought to remand the cases back to state court, after Carnival moved to have both actions dismissed, arguing that the matters did not qualify as a mass action.
The district court ruled that removal under CAFA was not appropriate because neither or the cases involved 100 or more plaintiffs. The 11th Circuit agreed on appeal. “Under the plain language of CAFA…the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ two separate actions unless they proposed to try 100 or more persons’ claims jointly,” the court explained. While the two cases involved common fact issues, given that they both arose from the same accident, the court said that the two groups of plaintiffs could not be combined in order to reach the 100 mark.
The court further noted that neither the plaintiff groups nor the state court had indicated that the two cases should be combined and tried jointly. Thirty nine plaintiffs were originally party to one single action against the company. When another 65 sought to join the action – which would have brought the total plaintiff number to 104 – they voluntarily dismissed the complaint and split into two groups before filing separate complaints. “Neither group of plaintiffs ever moved the state court to consolidate those two separate lawsuits or hold a joint trial on any component (e.g., liability) of the two groups’ claims,” the court explained.
As a result, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision remanding the case to state court.
Jurisdiction is a critical issue in a wide variety of personal injury cases because it concerns whether a particular court is authorized to hear the plaintiffs’ claims. The issue is often complicated in cruise ship cases, which typically involve incidents that occur at sea. It is important that a person thinking about suing a cruise ship operator consult a personal injury lawyer in order to weigh jurisdiction and other legal issues before proceeding.
If you were injured on a cruise, the experienced Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help. Our lawyers have successfully handled all types of cruise ship accident claims, recovering compensation for victims in Florida and elsewhere.
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