Cruise Operators Have Made it Difficult to Sue
Cruise operators are facing a number of lawsuits due to their actions surrounding COVID-19. From passengers who were sickened on ships to those who had cruises cancelled without a refund, the cruise industry has been besieged by lawsuits. However, the stack of pages that are attached to your cruise ticket actually represent binding contractual terms. Nearly everyone does not read this when they buy the cruise ticket. However, in situations like these, they learn the hard way that the cruise industry actually makes it very difficult for you to file a lawsuit. This is what many potential plaintiffs are finding out the hard way right now.
You Are Often Stuck with the Contract You Signed
When you buy a ticket on a cruise line, you are subject to the terms and conditions that the cruise operator sets. Generally, these are binding on you because you had full knowledge of them at the time that you bought the ticket. One of the only ways that the court would decline to enforce the contractual provision is if the term is unconscionable. Other than that, you are largely stuck with what the cruise operator has put down on paper. These are clauses that their lawyers have suggested to protect them from cases such as these.
One of the biggest issues that plaintiffs are facing now when suing cruise operators is language in the agreement that takes away their class action rights. Large companies desperately want to keep their customers from being able to band together to sue them. Customers may not think that it is worth the effort pursue a lawsuit over a smaller amount of money. When thousands of them band together, a class action lawyer will have a much easier time fighting the case. Here, these restrictions will make it much more difficult to file suit. This will particularly hurt passengers who did not receive a refund of their ticket for a cruise that was cancelled.
Passengers who were sickened on the ship due to the alleged negligence of the cruise operator may still have an easier time. These lawsuits may have a higher dollar value than ticket refunds so it is still worthwhile to pursue. These cases may still be filed individually or in small groups. For the cruise industry, they have every incentive possible to make it more difficult for the plaintiffs to sue since they may face staggering liability.
Another provision of the cruise ticket agreement is that plaintiffs may not file their case in state courts. Instead, they must file them in federal court, usually in Florida or California. The obvious effect of this is that plaintiffs must travel a long way from home for their trial if the case goes that far. The other way that this harms plaintiffs is that state courts are usually more generous in damage awards than federal courts and are more likely to assess punitive damages against the defendant.
These Contract Clauses Could Be Voided By the Courts
As mentioned before, contract clauses can be voided if they are unconscionable. This would happen if the cruise operator overreaches in selecting a grossly one-sided contract clause. This is the approach that many plaintiffs appear to be choosing here as a way to fight the cruise operators. The tickets that have barred class action lawsuits are particularly susceptible to challenge. However, the United States Supreme Court has been cutting back on class action lawsuits in recent years, and these provisions may very well survive in court. Courts may hold that the way to express disagreement with these clauses is simply by not buying a cruise ticket that bars a class action lawsuit.
In the meantime, the lawsuits against the cruise industry for the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak are just beginning. Cruise operations may ultimately face billions of dollars worth of claims in these cases as hundreds of people were sickened on their boats. The lawsuits claimed that the cruise operators knew of the possibility that the pandemic would spread quickly on their boats but ignored those risks. In some cases, the lawsuits allege that the cruise operators knew that some passengers had been sickened. However, they allegedly hid that information from the other passengers and kept the ship going. The plaintiffs are accusing the cruise operators of putting profits over safety and failing to live up to the safety measures that they promised the passengers before the cruises left.
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