Several times a year I have the unpleasant opportunity to tell a lawyer that he or she has missed the statute of limitations in a case against a Cruise Line. Usually this is because they assumed that the 3 year statute of limitation for filing a general maritime case applies. However, all cruise line tickets that I have seen contain a provision that any negligence or wrongful death claims against a cruise line must be filed within one year from the date of the occurrence. This limitation has been universally upheld by the courts.
Even worse, for cruises that originate or include one American port the cruise lines are able to specify only one jurisdiction where they can be sued. Most cruise lines specify Miami, Florida, but some require suit to be filed in Seattle, Washington or Los Angeles, California. Carnival Cruise Lines, which is the largest, and some other cruise lines, go even further and specify that they can only be sued in the Federal District Court in Dade County (Miami), Florida. In one case, Carnival v. Shute, the Shutes purchased a ticket in Washington state, boarded the vessel in Los Angeles, California, and Mrs. Shute was injured in a fall off the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Despite these facts the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that their case against Carnival could only be brought in Miami, Florida.
This forum selection clause is the principal method the cruise lines use to discourage passengers from bringing legitimate claims in all but the most serious cases. Since the case must be filed in Miami, the plaintiff must travel there for a deposition and an examination by the cruise line's selected physician. Then, at the close of discovery and prior to trial, they must return for a mediation, and if the case does not settle at mediation, they must return for the trial. All of this is at the expense of the injured party.
The final insult is that the cruise ships are all of foreign registry and the crew is composed of foreign nationals. It is extimated that the cruise industry is a $50 Billion a year business and very little of this is returned to the U.S.