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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviews a lot of cruise line lawsuits, thanks to the volume of ships going in and out of Florida. Most of the time, the appellate court seems to favor the plaintiffs in these cases. Most of the time, the cruise lines are arguing that liability waivers preclude claims.
A cruise line fares better when it argues improper venue based on the passage contract.
In the fall of 2009, Tore Myhra and his family vacationed on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. During his voyage, Myhra fell ill. He was diagnosed with Legionnaire's Disease, and died sometime later.
Myhra's estate sued Royal Caribbean, seeking damages for his injuries and death. It alleged that a bacterial infection that he had acquired while on board Royal Caribbean's vessel had caused his death.
Royal Caribbean moved to dismiss the action for improper venue under FRCP 12(b)(3), relying upon a forum-selection clause among the conditions in Myhra's passage contract. The clause required that all personal injury claims be litigated in the courts of England and Wales and be governed by English law. (At all times relevant to this litigation, the United Kingdom was a party to the Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and Their Luggage by Sea.)
The district court agreed with Royal Caribbean and dismissed the case.
The estate appealed, arguing that the forum-selection clause should be invalidated both because it is against the statutorily-expressed public policy, and because its terms were not reasonably communicated to the Myhras.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.
The appellate court found that U.S. law did not prevent Royal Caribbean from including the forum-selection clause in the Myhras' contract, and that the district court had properly concluded that the clause was reasonably communicated to the Myhras.