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Court Requires Carnival Cruise Lines to Produce Contract in Order to Force an Injured Seaman Crew Member Employee to Arbitrate His Claim

Carnival Cruise Lines recently started inserting arbitration provisions into their seaman crew member employee contracts. These arbitration provisions require injured crew members to arbitrate their claims against the cruise line as opposed to having a judge or jury decide their cases. Though Carnival Cruise Lines often times require their seaman crew member employees to sign such contracts when they report to the ship, this practice is not always followed. Should the cruise line fail to produce a signed contract, it cannot compel arbitration. This was the case with Brais & Brais’ client Edward Florian.

Carnival Ship Blog.jpgMr. Florian began working for Carnival Cruise Lines on February 25, 2007. At the time he reported to the ship, Mr. Florian signed a contract containing an arbitration provision. He served the contract period without incident. At the conclusion of the contract period, he returned home to Peru. Carnival Cruise Lines then rehired Mr. Florian to begin work on January 13, 2008 aboard a different ship. This time the cruise line did not require him to sign an employment contract as a condition to letting him work. During this second employment period, Mr. Florian developed a spinal cord injury.

Brais & Brais filed a lawsuit in Miami, Florida state court on Mr. Florian’s behalf for his spinal cord injury as well as additional injuries suffered as a result of substandard medical care provided by Carnival. The cruise line removed the case to federal court and attempted to compel arbitration of the claim. Carnival based its argument upon the contract signed for the first period of employment — not the second period of employment when Mr. Florian developed his injury. The cruise line also argued, although it could not find the signed contract for the second period of employment, Mr. Florian must have signed one since it is company policy to require seaman crew members to sign a contract containing an arbitration provision as an employment condition.

Brais & Brais argued the cruise line is required to produce the contract containing an arbitration agreement applicable for the employment period the crew member was injured; and, the production of a contract applicable for the employment period before the injury or the rendition of company policy regarding the signing of such agreements cannot serve as a basis to compel arbitration. The court agreed with Brais & Brais and issued an order denying the cruise line’s request to compel arbitration and remanding the case back to state court to be tried by a jury.