In many ways, an injury sustained at sea is like an injury sustained on dry land: it hurts and can be expensive to treat. Suing for an injury sustained while aboard a ship – or while getting on or off it – is a slightly more tricky proposition, however. The first hurdle is finding the right court in which to file suit. In Vincenzo v. Carnival, the Southern District of Florida explains the basic tests for determining whether a person injured at sea can sue for damages in federal court.
At the end of a four-day cruise aboard the Carnival Imagination, Plaintiff Antoinette Vincenzo was injured when she fell at the Port of Miami. Vincenzo and her husband filed suit against Carnival Corporation, the ship’s owner, in the District Court for the Southern District of Miami, a federal court. Plaintiffs alleged that the company’s negligence caused Ms. Vincenzo’s injury.
Carnival filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. In order to invoke a federal court’s admiralty jurisdiction, a plaintiff must satisfy the requirements of both the “location test” and the “connection test.” The former requires a plaintiff to establish that either the “tort occurred on navigable water” of the “injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water,” according to the court. The connection test requires a plaintiff to show that the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce and that the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to maritime activity.
In this case, Plaintiffs alleged that Ms. Vincenzo’s injury occurred while “exiting the port area.” This, injury, according to the court, could not be considered to have occurred in navigable water, nor could it have been caused by the ship that Plaintiffs had just left. “Since the location condition for such jurisdiction is not satisfied, Plaintiffs are unable to successfully invoke admiralty jurisdiction for a tort claim,” the court ruled.
Additionally, Plaintiffs’ claim that the cruise line’s forum selection clause nevertheless granted the court jurisdiction over the matter was unfounded, according to the court. Printed on Plaintiffs’ cruise ticket, the forum selection clause provides that any dispute be litigated in either the Southern District, or, in the event the Southern District lacks jurisdiction, in a Miami-Dade court. While the court agreed with Plaintiffs that the clause was valid, it further determined that the clause directed that the action be filed in local court, because the federal court lacked jurisdiction.
For anyone considering filing a personal injury suit against a cruise line, it’s important to note that the court did not rule that Carnival was not at fault nor that it could not be held liable for Ms. Vincenzo’s injury. Rather, the court simply found that the case could not be decided by this particular court.
The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine 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. If you or a loved one were involved injured in an accident in South Florida, please take advantage of a free consultation by contacting the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733, or submitting an on-line “Contact Us” form.
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