Florida Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Personal Injury Action Against Hotel, Based on Forum Selection Clause in Contract

In Feggestad v. Kerzner International Bahamas, LTD, et al., the plaintiffs appealed an order from the lower court dismissing their complaint against the defendants, finding that the contract that the plaintiffs signed contained an enforceable forum selection clause. A forum selection clause is a term in a contract that binds the parties to litigating any disputes regarding the agreement and its terms in a specific location.

The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiffs made a reservation for the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and obtained a confirmation via email. The confirmation had a Terms and Conditions section that required the guests to view a separate document. In the document, the plaintiffs were notified that any dispute regarding the reservation and the plaintiffs’ stay at the hotel must be litigated exclusively in the Bahamas. They were also informed that upon arriving in the Bahamas, they would need to sign a registration form that included the same forum selection clause identifying the Bahamas.

When the plaintiffs checked into their hotel, the customer service representative asked them to sign a registration card. The plaintiffs asked why they needed to sign it, and the representative said that it was necessary for charging incidentals to their hotel bill. The card contained a similar forum selection clause.

During their stay at the hotel, the husband slipped and fell on a sidewalk. He filed a negligence action against the defendants, and his wife asserted a claim for loss of consortium. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, based on the forum selection clause. The plaintiffs opposed the motion, submitting affidavits stating that the representative at the check in desk had misrepresented the purpose of signing the card. The lower court rejected this argument and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the reviewing court summarized the standard governing when a forum selection clause may be invalidated. There are four bases:  “if (1) its formation was induced by fraud or overreaching; (2) the plaintiff would be deprived of his day in court because of inconvenience or unfairness; (3) the chosen law would deprive the plaintiff of a remedy; or (4) enforcement of the clause would contravene public policy.” When the parties do not negotiate and agree to the clause, the court must examine whether the terms of the forum selection provision were communicated to the consumer in a reasonable fashion. This involves examining whether the plaintiffs had the ability to become meaningfully informed of the terms and had the chance to reject them.

In upholding the forum selection clause, the appellate court stated that the plaintiffs had multiple opportunities to review the forum selection clause and evaluate its terms. The email alone constituted sufficient notice of the clause and provided the plaintiffs with an adequate opportunity to review the forum selection clause’s terms. The appellate court held that the lower court properly granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

If you have been involved in an accident involving a cruise ship or hotel, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our premises liability attorneys have counseled numerous plaintiffs throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. We understand how stressful this situation can be for you and your family, and we will ensure that you receive the personalized, compassionate, and diligent legal counsel that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online.

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