A Federal District Court recently determined Princess Cruise Lines cannot require its injured crew members to arbitrate their Jones Act negligence claims in Bermuda. Crew members have the statutory right to select where the cruise line resides, where the cause of action arose, or anywhere the cruise line does business as the location of the dispute. The court found contracts requiring seaman crew members to arbitrate in Bermuda violate their substantive statutory right to select the location where their disputes are to be heard. As a consequence, the court held such choice-of-forum clauses are unenforceable.
This ruling is a big blow to the cruise line industry. Nearly every cruise line seafarer’s agreement requires injured seaman crew members to arbitrate their claims in foreign countries. Though the locations change from year to year, following cruise lines seafarer’s agreements provide:
- Carnival Cruise Lines: London, England, Monaco, Panama City, Panama or Manila, Philippines (whichever is closer to Seafarer’s home country);
- Celebrity Cruises: The crew member’s country of citizenship, unless arbitration is unavailable in that country, in which case, Miami, Florida;
- Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL): The crew member’s country of citizenship, unless arbitration is unavailable in that country, in which case, Nassau, Bahamas; and
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines: The crew member’s county of citizenship or the ship’s flag state (Bahamas), unless arbitration is unavailable under in those countries, in which case, Miami, Florida.
The reason behind requiring arbitration in foreign countries is to preclude injured seaman crew members from retaining competent American maritime lawyers who know the ins and outs of U.S. maritime law and how to properly represent crew members against cruise lines. In short, the cruise lines figure if their injured employees cannot hire competent counsel, the claims will settle at a fraction for what they would if the claims are brought in the United States and handled by American maritime attorneys.
The Board Certified maritime lawyers of Brais & Brais have extensive experience regarding cruise line arbitration agreements at both the trial and appellate court levels. If you are an injured crew member and would like to discuss your case, feel free to contact us.