Florida Court Upholds Waiver in Cruise Ship Activity Injury Case – Johnson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises

In Johnson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled against a person who was injured while partaking in one of the ship’s on-board activities.

Plaintiff Charlene Johnson was injured in Jan. 2010 while a passenger aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, “Oasis of the Sea.” She fractured her right ankle during a FlowRider simulated surfing machine lesson provided on the boat when the instructor let go of the board on which she was standing and Plaintiff subsequently fell. Plaintiff filed a personal injury action for damages against Royal Caribbean in federal court.

Prior to trial, Royal Caribbean filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by a waiver agreement that she signed before the FlowRider lesson. According to the court, the electronic “Onboard Activity Waiver” she signed required Plaintiff to “fully release and forever discharge” Defendant from “any and all actions” arising from “any accident or injury” in any way connected to Plaintiff’s use of the FlowRider. The three-page agreement further stated that “rider/participant can, intentionally or inadvertently, move quickly and unexpectedly from side to side or any direction, which will necessarily result in falls or wipeouts from the bodyboard and which may cause serious injury.”

The court agreed with Royal Caribbean, finding that the waiver agreement was valid and enforceable and barred Plaintiff’s suit for injury resulting from her use of the FlowRider machine.

Although 6 U.S.C. Section 30509 prevents the owner of a ship transporting people between U.S. ports from relying on a waiver clause to limit its liability for injury or death caused by the owner or its employees, the court found that the matter was not subject to general maritime law. “In order for admiralty jurisdiction to exist, two tests must be satisfied: the location test and the connection test,” the court ruled. The location test considers whether the incident at issue occurred in navigable waters. Under the connection test, on the other hand,”(1) the incident causing the alleged harm must have a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce; and (2) the activity giving rise to the incident must bear a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.”

Here, the court found that FlowRider lessons do not bear a strong relationship to traditional maritime activity – navigation, piloting and shipping – calling it “a purely recreational activity.” The court also ruled that FlowRider accidents are unlikely to disrupt traditional maritime activities.

The court further concluded that, even if general maritime law applies, Section 30509 itself is inapplicable to this case. The public policy rationale behind the statute, the court noted, “is that common carriers should not be able to secure immunity from liability for their own negligence in providing transportation and other essential functions of common carriers.” Because the case did not involve one of these essential functions, the statute did not apply, according to the court.

Despite the ruling, a person injured on-board a cruise ship typically has a number of legal remedies available under state law. If you were injured on a cruise, the experienced Fort Lauderdale cruise ship accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help. Anidjar & Levine have successfully handled all types of cruise ship accident claims, recovering compensation for victims in Florida and elsewhere.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Weighs in on Non-Monetary Damages for Personal Injury on Cruise Ships – Lobegeiger v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc

In Florida Personal Injury Cases, The Waiting is Often the Hardest Part – Parkinson v. Kia Motors Corporation

Proximate Cause in Florida Personal Injury Cases – Sunbelt Environmental v. Gulf Coast Truck and Equipment Company