When one seeks damages in a Florida personal injury case, the question of where to file suit may not be one of the injured person’s top concerns. Filing an action in the county in which the accident occurred is straightforward, but occasionally the question of jurisdiction is more complex. Passengers on cruise ships from around the U.S. and across the world may be surprised to learn that they must file an action in Florida, where the cruise ship company is based. Agreements to litigate matters are included on the ticket, and these type of corporate-led arrangements are allowed by law. Similarly, cruise ship employees are bound by employment agreements and can be required to file suit in Florida.
A recent appellate decision (No. 4D17-514) addresses this topic. A cruise ship employee sued for negligence in Florida under the Jones Act, alleging the vessel was unseaworthy after he lost a finger and permanently damaged three others while mooring a supply vessel. The cruise ship corporation moved to dismiss, arguing forum non conveniens. Forum non conveniens is a common law doctrine that allows a case to be tried in a different jurisdiction that is more convenient, even though a local court technically has jurisdiction. This doctrine is also used to prevent plaintiffs from “forum shopping” for the best result when the choices involve international locations.
The cruise ship company in this case moved to dismiss, arguing the Florida county was an inconvenient forum and Florida had no true connection to the case. The company provided affidavits and contracts to the court, showing they sold the ship for scrap before the employee was hired by another company to help move the ship to India from the Bahamas. The ship made a stop in Namibia, where the injury-causing accident occurred. The company argued this sequence of events showed they did not have control over the ship, nor the employee. The company argued the ship was never docked in Florida after it was sold, the employee was not medically treated in Florida, and none of the witnesses were located in the state. The company pointed out they were initially and mistakenly listed as the owner of the ship in the employment contract, but they felt they had provided enough proof the ship had been sold and delivered to the buyer prior to the employee’s hire.