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Mase Lara and Cameron Eubanks win big appeal and send plaintiff back to federal court

The Mase Lara team is pleased to report that it recently obtained an important opinion from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in Newell v. Carnival Cruise Lines, No. 3D14-2435, affirming an order that determined a cruise passenger’s lawsuit should have been filed in federal court.

Cameron Eubanks

The former passenger alleged that she slipped and fell in a restricted area of the cruise terminal after her cruise and prior to arriving at the U.S. Customs station. The former passenger argued that she could sue the cruise line in state court, despite the federal forum selection clause in her ticket contract, because the federal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over her alleged injury in the cruise terminal. The Third District Court of Appeal agreed with our arguments that the former passenger’s claim fell under the federal court’s admiralty jurisdiction.

Admiralty jurisdiction applies to tort cases that satisfy the “location” test and the “connection” test. Courts hold that the location test requires the tort to either occur on navigable waters or be caused by a vessel on navigable waters and that the connection test requires the incident to have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce. The appellate court held that both tests were satisfied here because the former passenger was still disembarking her cruise as she remained in a secured area of the cruise terminal prior to arriving at the U.S. Customs station. Alleged injuries occurring during the disembarkation process of a cruise ship remain subject to admiralty jurisdiction.

This opinion represents a significant victory for the cruise lines as no reported state or federal appellate court had specifically addressed the extent to which the cruise ticket contract forum selection clause applied to passenger injuries occurring after the conclusion of the cruise. The Third District Court of Appeal’s opinion makes clear that passengers allegedly injured during the disembarkation process, even on land, must sue in federal court as mandated by their ticket contract. Cameron Eubanks of Mase Lara was the principal author of our appellate brief and he participated in the oral argument heard in this case.

For more information on Mase Lara’s appellate practice area, please call us at (305) 377-3770 or email Cameron at ceubanks@maselaw.com. For a PDF version of the appellate opinion, please click on the link.

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