Guest Editorial by Spencer Aronfeld.
One of the most common defenses used by the major cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and others is to deny injured passengers justice who file their claim either in the wrong venue or outside the one-year time limit. Typically, a maritime claim is governed by a three-year statute of limitations, but the cruise lines in an effort to trap the unwary change the terms in the ticket language. Both of these requirements are outlined in the small print of the passenger ticket which few if any passengers actually read, much less understand.
In the 30 years that I’ve specialized in cruise ship passenger injury claims, I typically get several calls a year by confused claimants and exasperated lawyers who have been told by the cruise line that their case is time-barred by the statute of limitations. This is frequently called: “Blowing the Statute of Limitations.” And my advice to these poor folks has been pretty much the same, in most cases, that they are simply out of time and too late.
Until now. A federal appeals court recently reversed a decision dismissing a claim against Carnival for being filed too late. In the recently decided case of Erika Roberts v. Carnival, the appellate court issued an opinion that before a case can be dismissed for blowing the statute of limitations the trial judge needs to look at two factors:
One, the physical characteristics of the clause and two: the passenger’s opportunity to become meaningfully informed of the contract terms. The first factor is limited to a review of the ticket itself. Trial courts should consider the size, placement, font, and readability of the limitations-period clause, among other objective characteristics. Most of the time the statute of limitations is virtually impossible to locate and understand. The second factor takes into account facts beyond the ticket and the circumstances of whether a particular plaintiff had an opportunity to review the ticket terms before embarkation.
By reversing the trial court’s dismissal, it allowed the plaintiff to submit evidence of how, when, and where she was given the ticket and specifically if she had time to review it before the cruise set sail. Whether the plaintiff will be able to present sufficient evidence that she was unable to review the contract before the ship left remains to be seen, but this case gives her and others like her hope that simply filing after the one year cut off may not automatically mean that they have waived their right to make a claim.
Ultimately, this reinforces the need that anyone who has been injured on a cruise, anywhere in the world needs to consult with an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer that specializes in cruise ship accidents. I am proud to work closely with the personal injury attorneys at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. and their clients injured on cruise ships, in ports, on tenders, or as a result of medical malpractice committed by cruise line doctors.
ROBERTS, v.CARNIVAL CORPORATION, d.b.a. Carnival Cruise Line, Defendant-Appellee. No. 19-14993
Estate of Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 695 F.3d 1233, 1245–46 (11th Cir. 2012) (reviewing the physical characteristics of the contract); Krenkel v. Kerzner Int’l Hotels Ltd., 579 F.3d 1279, 1282 (11th Cir. 2009) (same).