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The Case of the Dream Vacation

Can a passenger sue a cruise line for neglecting safety?

cruise ship accident - unsuccessful lawsuit

"The cruise lines bury language in the fine print of the ticket contract, which significantly impacts your rights," says the plaintiff's attorney. — Michael Hirshon

Only in Paris

Regent argued that, although it has headquarters in the United States, the ship Seung chose to take did not leave from or even enter a U.S. port. Seung boarded in Tahiti and was scheduled to travel in French Polynesia. Since the ship had no contact with the United States, Regent was not required to provide a U.S. legal forum. Seung was free to file a suit in Paris, where she would have all the legal rights provided by France.

The verdict

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit sympathized with Seung's situation. It noted in its 2010 decision, however, that it takes a "strong showing" to prove that a forum selection clause should not be enforced.

Seung signed the Regent contract, which contained the clear language that "for all cruises which do not include a port of the United States, it is agreed … that any and all disputes … shall be litigated and determined in Paris, France." Since Seung's cruise did not touch a U.S. port, she had a heavy burden in proving that the forum clause was unreasonable.

The court noted that Seung did not argue that Regent committed fraud, or that she would be denied a remedy if she brought her suit in Paris. In fact, the court reasoned, by agreeing to a forum selection clause, Seung allowed Regent to limit the legal expenses that might be incurred by forum shopping. This savings by Regent may have helped reduce the cost of Seung's charges for the cruise.

The court was not persuaded by Seung's argument that she could not travel. The court reasoned that a trip from California to Florida would be nearly as difficult, and cause similar health risks and concerns, as traveling to Paris.

Paris, the court found, was a reasonable neutral location for Regent to require passengers from many different countries to bring lawsuits.

Seung's attorney, Michael Winkleman, says, "The cruise lines bury language in the fine print of the ticket contract, which significantly impacts your rights" — a lesson Seung learned too late.

Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.

You may also like: 5 great Carribean cruises.

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