Chang v. Carnival Corp. – Limits on Cruise Ship Injury Lawsuits

Although Florida is more known for its booming cruise travel industry, South Carolina has its own, primarily in Charleston.Cruise Ship Docked

For those who are injured on a cruise ship, there are a few things you must understand. The first is that, even though these ships dock at a South Carolina port, they are not South Carolina businesses. Most are based in the Bahamas. Also, most injuries associated with cruise lines happen at sea. That matters because state courts usually don’t have personal or subject matter jurisdiction in these cases, which means any injury lawsuits typically have to be filed in federal court. In fact, most cruise lines will stipulate that any injury claims have to be filed in a federal district court.

Another element to consider is that while most personal injury lawsuits in South Carolina are bound by a three-year statute of limitations, most cruise injury lawsuits have to be filed within one year. That’s not even maritime law but the agreement to which passengers agree when they purchase a ticket and board the ship. This stipulation is included in the fine print of the ticket, and courts have upheld it as valid. This means that cruise ship injury plaintiffs have to act quickly.

In the recent case of Chang v. Carnival Corp., this was a slip-and-fall accident lawsuit stemming from an alleged injury on a ship off the coast of South Florida.

The undisputed facts of this lawsuit are that the plaintiff slipped and fell while aboard the defendant’s cruise ship. The ticket that she purchased contained a limitation on the window of time in which she could file a lawsuit (one year). The ticket also contained a “forum selection clause.” This means that the proper forum for disputes was designated on the ticket, and in this case, it was a federal court (specifically one in South Florida), as long as the federal court system had subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. The clause on the ticket indicated that only when there was no subject matter jurisdiction could an injury lawsuit be filed in state court.

The plaintiff hired a California attorney to represent her in the claim, and a lawsuit was filed. When the defendant learned of the litigation, it sent two separate notices indicating it would not waive its rights under the forum selection clause. Less than a month before the one-year deadline, the plaintiff switched attorneys, hiring one in Florida instead, and then a few days before the deadline expired, she filed her lawsuit in state court.

In the following month, the defendant moved to dismiss, citing the forum selection clause violation. While this motion was pending, the plaintiff filed another lawsuit in federal court. However, this lawsuit was filed after the one-year deadline.

The defendant moved for summary judgment in the federal case, citing the one-year limitations expiration. The district court granted this request.

On appeal, the plaintiff conceded her federal action was filed after the deadline, but she argued that her filing in state court tolled the action in federal court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The court found that equitable tolling was inapplicable in this case because the defendants specifically warned the plaintiff of their intention to enforce the forum selection clause.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Chang v. Carnival Corp., Oct. 6, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Smotherman v. Cass Regional Medical Center – Slip and Fall Verdict Not Nullified by Juror Misconduct, Sept. 28, 2016, Premises Liability Attorney Blog

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