September 10, 2015

Florida District Court Grants Cruiseline’s Motion for Summary Judgment after Plaintiff Misses Statute of Limitations

A recent Florida case addressed the importance of promptly filing a personal injury action against a cruise ship company following an injury suffered while aboard one of the company’s ships. In Pettit v. Carnival Corp., the plaintiff sued after sustaining injuries aboard a cruise ship during September 2013. Before the woman boarded the vessel, she had signed an agreement providing that any personal injury actions arising from her passage on the cruise ship must be brought in the Southern District of Florida within two years of the injury.

Roughly two weeks before the statute of limitations on the plaintiff’s claim expired, she filed her negligence action against the cruise ship company in Miami-Dade County. Florida law requires a plaintiff to provide notice to the defendant that it has been named in a lawsuit within a certain period of days. In this case, the plaintiff did not serve the cruise ship company until November 2014—nearly two months after the suit was filed.

In response to the complaint, the defendant cruise ship company filed a motion to dismiss on December 1, 2014. The defendant’s motion was based on the forum selection provision included in the passenger agreement that the plaintiff signed prior to boarding. Roughly two weeks after the defendant’s motion to dismiss was filed, the plaintiff filed a new complaint in the Southern District of Florida. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the statute of limitations specified in the contract had lapsed. The plaintiff disputed this point, arguing that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled and that genuine issues of material fact were disputed in the case.

In ruling on the motion, the federal court first explained the standard for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment should be granted when no material facts are in dispute. The reviewing court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing that the motion should be granted, while the party opposing the motion must support his or her assertions regarding the existence of disputed material facts with adequate evidence.

Turning to the dispute at hand, the federal court next underscored the fact that the plaintiff admitted that she filed her complaint in the Southern District of Florida outside the two-year statute of limitations. In her opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the woman claimed that the defendant acted inequitably and was the underlying cause of her decision to initially file her action in the incorrect venue.

According to the court, a statute of limitations may be equitably tolled where the other party’s inequitable act prevented the plaintiff from filing his or her complaint within the statute of limitations. Based on the facts of this case, the federal court ruled that the contract clearly provided both a specific statute of limitations and a forum selection clause. The court also relied on the fact that the plaintiff failed to illustrate that the defendant had waived the forum selection provision, failed to establish that the defendant acted inequitably, and failed to provide timely notice of the filing of her first complaint to the defendant. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted.

If you have been injured while aboard a cruise ship, the dedicated personal injury lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our firm has provided seasoned legal counsel to injured cruise ship passengers throughout Southwest Florida, including in Naples, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral. We know how intimidating and complex bringing a lawsuit can be. We guide you through the process and ensure that you are asserting your rights along every step of the way. Contact us now to set up a free, no-obligation consultation. Call 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to get started.

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