An issue which comes up from time to time in cruise injury cases is which law governs the lawsuit. Such was the focus in a recent case involving a Royal Caribbean passenger who was hurt after falling from his wheelchair while being transported from the Majesty of the Seas to the Port of Miami’s parking lot. The issue before the court is whether to apply federal maritime law or Florida land-based law.
A personal injury case is governed by maritime law if it: (1) arises on navigable waters or is caused by a vessel on navigable waters; and, (2) bears a substantial relationship to a traditional maritime activity. These are known as the “location test” and the “connection test”.
The court’s analysis dealt first with the location test. It seems cut and dry that maritime law would not apply to an accident occurring on dry land. This is not the case. Application of maritime law has been extended to activities beginning on the ship but ending on land. The most common situation where this arises is in instances of unloading the ship. The court in this case reasoned the disembarkation process began on the ship and concluded at the passenger’s personal vehicle. Since the fall occurred during this process, the court found the “location test” was satisfied.
The court next turned to the “connection test”. For this test, the court was required to examine the general features of the activity involved to determine whether such has the relationship to traditional maritime activity and has the potential to disrupt maritime commerce. The court easily found the process of disembarking passengers from a cruise line is a traditional maritime activity. It also found that the accident had a potential to disrupt maritime commerce as the slowing down of the disembarkation proceed can cause delays in the departure of the cruise ship’s next voyage and the ending of the voyage of the next ship scheduled for the pier.
Having found the location and connections tests to be satisfied, the court found maritime law to apply to the accident. This had a profound impact on the outcome of the case as the court then terminated that although Florida law recognizes a claim for loss of consortium for an accident victim’s spouse, maritime law does not. A consequence of the application of maritime law was that the wife’s claim against the cruise line was dismissed.
Hiring a qualified maritime attorney to represent you in a personal injury lawsuit is an important decision. If you were injured while disembarking a cruise ship and would like to know your legal rights, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.