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Federal District Court Jurisdiction in Passenger Claims Against Cruise Ship Companies

There are many different types of accidents or incidents that occur aboard cruise ships. These include slip and fall accidents, injuries occurring during participation in shipboard supervised activities, injuries that occur during shoreside excursions, injuries that happen on gangways, as well as a host of different type of accidents onboard the cruise ship. Also, a person can be a victim of a sexual assault or rape aboard a cruise ship.

If required to bring a negligence action against the cruise ship company, or action involving an intentional tort such as a sexual assault or rape, a passenger will most likely be required to file suit in a Federal District Court named in the passenger ticket contract. The clause which states where the lawsuit must be filed is referred to as a Forum Selection Clause. A Forum Selection Clause is enforceable under the Admiralty Law. The leading case which recognized the validity of a Forum Selection Clause in a passenger ticket contract involved Carnival Cruise Lines and the name of the case is Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585; 111 S.Ct. 1522 (1991).

The Forum Selection Clause in a Carnival Cruise Line passenger ticket requires any action against Carnival to be filed in Federal Court. The question then becomes what is the jurisdiction that is invoked in the Federal District Court when bringing a claim against Carnival pursuant to such a passenger Forum Selection Clause. Will the Federal Court have diversity jurisdiction? Will the case have to be brought within the Admiralty Jurisdiction of the District Court, without the right to a jury trial? These are issues that the Maritime attorney will have to face.

While many passengers feel it is extremely unfair for the cruise line to be able to dictate where the lawsuit is to be filed, the Supreme Court of the United States felt that a Forum Selection Clause in the passenger ticket is justified in order to avoid any confusion as to the proper venue for bringing a lawsuit against a cruise ship company such as Carnival Cruise Lines.

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