Letters to the Editor

A level playing field for cruise passengers

In August, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stood up for injured cruise passengers in the Sorrels opinion, finding that the right to trial by jury remains intact in maritime cases.

In reversing the trial court’s order, the Eleventh Circuit gave Teresita Sorrels her day in court and allows passengers injured by the alleged negligence of the cruise line the same rights as if they were otherwise the victims of land-based negligent businesses.

The landmark case, handled by Leesfield Scolaro’s maritime lawyers, Carol L. Finklehoffe and Robert D. Peltz, is the second pro-consumer, pro-fairness doctrine, chipping away at the otherwise immune and one of the most protected and profitable industries in the world. Just this year, in the case of Franza v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, the same appellate court ruled that passengers injured or killed as a result of shipboard medical negligence, in fact, have the right to go to court, a right denied to them for more than 25 years by the previous opinion of Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star.

The cruise industry has built in their own protection and insulated themselves from equal and fair treatment applied to other wrongdoers.

Most cruise tickets, unknown to the passengers, shorten a typical four-year statute of limitations to only one year.

The cruise lines have also mandated that most cases be brought in South Florida, and they are even now requiring passengers from around the world to file all claims in federal court, increasing the workload of federal judges.

The cruise industry has established a different set of rules by ticket contract and by the extrapolation of maritime case law and ancient doctrines, such as the Death on the High Seas Act and the Athens Convention, as well as certain treatises likewise limiting the rights of cruise passengers.

In the last two pro-consumer orders issued by the Eleventh Circuit, 20 million cruise passengers annually now have certain rights and protections restored.

The cruise industry has been roundly criticized by Congress for a number of safety concerns including, most recently, cases involving rape and sexual assault aboard ships by crew members.

The highly profitable cruise industry is insured for the losses resulting from their neglect, and should be more forthcoming in restoring losses of their passengers.

Ira H. Leesfield, Miami