Every year thousands of Minnesotans escape the cold and travel to exotic destinations on cruise ships. Many of these cruise ships depart from Florida ports of call. When Minnesotans book a cruise, they almost always enter into a contract with the cruise line and those contracts almost always contain what is known as a forum selection clause.
A forum selection clause is an agreement between the parties to the contract as to where disputes arising from the contract will be resolved. The cruise line drafts the contract, and naturally, crafts it in a manner most favorable to the company. In other words, if a Minnesota resident needs to sue the cruise line over injuries suffered while on the cruise (no matter where the cruise ship was at the time) the forum selection clause will provide that the suit must occur on the cruise line’s home turf. Several large cruise lines are based out of Miami, Florida, and the forum selection clause will, for example, provide that the suit must be filed in a Federal District Court in Miami.
This forum selection can be a major inconvenience for a cruise ship passenger who is not only is trying to recover from injuries, but who also must participate in a lawsuit in Florida after they have returned home to Minnesota. There are defenses to forum selection clauses, but their validity has generally been upheld with regard to cruise ship contracts.
It is also critical to note that cruise ship contracts limit time periods for filing claims. These time periods can be extremely short. Accordingly, if a Minnesotan is injured on a cruise ship they should contact a Florida attorney, or an attorney licensed in Florida and Minnesota so that their claim can be analyzed.
Attorney Mark C. Santi is licensed to Practice Law in Minnesota, Florida, and New York.