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Eleventh Circuit enforces passenger cruise ticket statute of limitations

In Chang v. Carnival Corporation, Case No.: 14-13228, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a summary judgment for a cruise line after a former passenger filed her slip-and-fall negligence claim too late. The passenger’s ticket required that she file any lawsuit in federal court in Miami within one year of her injury. The passenger instead waited until days before the one year was up, filing suit incorrectly in Florida state court.

The cruise line moved to dismiss based on improper venue, and the passenger filed a parallel lawsuit in federal court after the one year limitations period expired. The passenger blamed the mistake on a last-second change of attorneys. During this time, the cruise line on two occasions reminded the passenger and her attorneys in written correspondence that it would require her to file suit in the proper venue. The cruise line then moved for summary judgment on the statute of limitations in the federal case, which the district court granted. The district court held that the passenger was not entitled to toll the statute of limitations simply because she switched attorneys.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment order, enforcing the statute of limitations against the passenger. The appellate court agreed that tolling of the statute of limitations did not apply in this case. The court noted that the burden to show that equitable tolling is warranted is on the plaintiff and that it remains an extraordinary remedy that should be sparingly applied. It does not apply in situations where the plaintiff’s mistake is the result of garden-variety negligence; the plaintiff must demonstrate she acted with due diligence. The passenger was specifically warned of the ticket contract provisions at least twice, but still filed suit in the wrong forum. The court reasoned that allowing the passenger to circumvent the ticket contract provisions under the circumstances would cause them to lose much of their force, leading to the unnecessary expenditure of resources by courts and litigants in similar disputes over venue where the parties’ agreement already provided for same. Carnival was represented on appeal in this case by Curtis Mase and Cameron Eubanks.

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