The opinion of the court was delivered by: JACK B. WEINSTEIN
This case raises the interesting question of whether a contract between a cruise ship line and a passenger should be treated under the admiralty law, applying a one year statute of limitations, or under the law governing consumer contracts for resorts, providing longer time to bring suit for injury. Hoary tradition requires the court to follow the former model even though public policy and expectations of lay passengers may lean towards the latter. The problem is one that requires an answer by Congress rather than by the courts.
The issue is an important one. The cruise industry is booming. Since the 1980's, the number of cruise ship passengers embarking at United States ports has grown at the rate of eight to ten percent per year with no decrease in sight. Betsy Wade, Cruise Ships: How Safe?, N.Y. Times, May 23, 1993, Sec. 5 at 3. Projections show an anticipated ten percent yearly growth through 1997. Cruise Lines: Industry Outlook Industry Overview, Travel Weekly, Jan 2, 1992 at S12. More than 4.2 million people took cruises in 1992 and it is predicted that that number will reach five million this year. Carnival Goes Looking for New Cruisers, So. China Morning Post Ltd., Apr. 22, 1993 at 10. This "fastest growing segment of the leisure travel industry" has been called "recession-resistant." Cruise Lines: Industry Outlook Industry Overview, Travel Weekly, Jan 2, 1992 at S12. Even during the Persian Gulf War, when travel was almost at a standstill, cruising was not severely affected. Id.
Plaintiff Harry Vavoules was allegedly injured on September 26, 1991 on one such cruise when an unsecured trolley loaded with glasses and other objects rolled into him while he was in the Observation Lounge of the M/V Westward, a cruise ship owned by defendant. He claims damages for personal injuries in the amount of $ 1 million plus $ 1569.62 for damage to his video equipment.
Plaintiff's counsel communicated in writing with defendant's claims representative between November 5, 1991 and March 20, 1992. The complaint was not filed until February 22, 1993, seventeen months after the injury allegedly occurred. Defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity and maritime jurisdiction.
The passenger ticket contract that plaintiff was issued included the following provision in clear and easily readable print:
. . . In no event shall any suit for any cause including, without limitation, suits brought in rem and suits brought in personam be maintained against the Vessel or the Carrier with respect to . . . personal injury . . . be maintainable unless suit shall be commenced within one (1) year from day when the . . . personal injury. . . of the passenger occurred, notwithstanding any provision of law of any state or country to the contrary. (emphasis supplied).
Warnings appeared on each of the first four pages of the ticket in obvious red and white lettering. The relevant paragraph is number 13 of 28. The "one-year" warning was in bold type. Plaintiff received the ticket in advance of boarding the vessel. At the time of boarding, only the third leaf was removed so plaintiff retained the relevant warnings.
Defendant claims that this one-year limit on the time for filing claims and commencing actions is authorized by statute and not contrary to public policy. It moves for summary judgment on the ground that the action is time-barred, relying on its contention that the ticket "reasonably communicated" the time limitation to plaintiff.
Plaintiff concedes the binding nature of the one-year statute of limitations, but argues that under conflicts of laws principles, the contract, which by its terms appears to be governed by Florida law, is void as against public policy. Although plaintiff cites no case to support his theory, he relies upon the four year Florida statute of limitations. F.S.A. § 95.11. Attempts to shorten this period are against Florida public policy: