The issue of whether arbitration provisions pertaining to cruise line seaman personal injury claims has been a hotly litigated issue over the past seven years. Nearly every major line today inserts arbitration provisions into their seafarer’s contracts or collective barging agreements. Along with arbitration provisions, the lines include foreign choice of law provisions. The purpose for these provisions is to limit personal injury liability exposure. These provisions take personal injury claims away from juries and place it in the hands of arbitrators (generally lawyers) and apply the less liberal foreign laws than the Jones Act, Penalty Wage Act and United States general maritime law. Since the 2005 landmark decision of Bautista v. Star Cruises, courts have overwhelming enforced such arbitration provisions. Despite wide enforcement of these arbitration provisions, Courts have made some exceptions. The recent case of Cappello v. Carnival Corp. handled by the maritime attorneys of Brais law is one example where a court made such an exception.
This case involved an Italian engineer who was blinded when mixing caustic chemicals needed to clean the cruise ship’s desalination plant. The cruise ship was operated by Carnival Corporation. Cappello was a contract employee of Golden Falcon, a wholly owned company of Carnival. The employment contract required “[a]ny and all disputes arising out of or in connection with [the] Agreement, including any question regarding its existence, validity, or termination, or Officer’s service on the vessel, shall be referred to and fully resolved by arbitration.” The contract was signed by Cappello and Golden Falcon but not Carnival.