Florida Court Upholds Dismissal for Inconvenient Forum in Cruise Accident Case

The Florida Court of Appeal for the Third District recently upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit related to a cruise accident, reasoning that Italy would be a more appropriate forum.The appeals court consolidated two cases – Abeid-Saba and Scimone II – brought by passengers aboard an Italian cruise ship, the Concordia. Both suits alleged that in January 2012, the Concordia’s captain deviated from the cruise’s planned course to perform a trick called a “bow.” During this maneuver, the Concordia struck an underwater reef, causing damage to the hull and requiring the evacuation of 3,206 passengers.

Within weeks of the incident, several passengers filed suit in state court. As the number of plaintiffs increased, the plaintiffs dismissed Scimone I and refiled two separate actions – Abeid-Saba and Scimone II – that divided the passengers into two groups.

In September 2012, the defendants (collectively, “Carnival”) removed both suits from state court to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act. Carnival then filed a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum). In the following February, the U.S. District Court remanded both cases to state court. Carnival again moved to dismiss both cases for forum non conveniens.

In May 2013, the trial court in Abeid-Saba applied the four-prong forum non conveniens test established by the Florida Supreme Court and found:  (i) Italy was an adequate alternative forum; (ii) Carnival presented sufficient evidence of private interest factors to show that a material injustice would result if the case were litigated in Florida; (iii) the public interest factors favored litigating the case in Italy; and (iv) the Abeid-Saba plaintiffs could reestablish their claims in Italy without an undue burden. Thus, the trial court granted Carnival’s motion to dismiss.

That same month, the trial court in Scimone II applied the four-part test and found:  (i) Italy was an adequate alternative forum; (ii) the private interest factors favored dismissal with respect to the non-U.S. plaintiffs, but not the U.S. plaintiffs; (iii) the public interest factors likewise favored dismissal for the non-U.S. plaintiffs, but not the U.S. plaintiffs; and (iv) removing the case from Florida to Italy would constitute an undue burden for the U.S. plaintiffs because they would need to transport evidence to Italy and have it translated. Thus, the court granted Carnival’s motion with respect to the non-U.S. plaintiffs, but it denied the motion with respect to the U.S. plaintiffs.

The Florida Court of Appeal for the Third District upheld the trial court’s order in Abeid-Saba, reasoning that the court properly applied the four-part test. In Scimone II, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the suit for the non-U.S. plaintiffs but reversed the order regarding the U.S. plaintiffs because the trial court failed to conduct a proper “private interest” analysis. Specifically, the appeals court explained, the trial court failed to evaluate the elements of the plaintiffs’ causes of action, consider the evidence required to prove and disprove each element, and make a logical evaluation as to the probable location of each element of proof. Since the trial court failed to make these assessments, the appeals court found it abused its discretion in denying the motion to dismiss with respect to the U.S. plaintiffs. The court therefore reversed that portion of the trial court’s ruling in Scimone II.

If you were injured while traveling as a cruise ship passenger, you should contact a dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as you are able.  To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website today.

Additional Resources:

Lugo v. Carnival Corp., Dist. Court, SD Florida 2015

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