ADA & Cruise Lines Part III-Court Cases
This is the last of the ADA articles and it provides information derived from publish court cases. The article is not intended to give legal advise but is for information and educational purposes. The Americans With Disability Act (ADA) was enacted by Congress in 1990 and there has not been too many published lawsuit. This my be due to the sued cruise lines preferring to make a settlement, thereby avoiding a costly defense expenses.. For those who feel the ADA suits against cruise lines is just another way to get some money, research indicates ADA plaintiff suits against a cruise line are not too attractive to trial lawyers. Where money has been awarded the amounts are not high and the plaintiff attorney may be faced with an adversary consisting of a band of lawyers employed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which often enters the case as "amicus curie", friend of the court..
The majority of the ADA lawsuits are against foreign flagged cruise lines but the following is a case against a U.S. flagged cruise ship where the cruise line could not use the defense, as foreign flagged lines do, that ADA does not apply to cruise ships. The case is known as Beck, Plaintiff v. American Hawaii Cruises, Inc. Defendant. Beck who is disabled alleges the Defendants violated title III of ADA, Hawaii's disability statute and engaged in false advertising, deceptive and unfair trade practices.
The cruise line asked the court to dismiss suit on the grounds the plaintiff did not file suit within six months as called for in the passenger ticket. The Defendant also asked that the charges if false advertising, etc. be dismissed. The court ruled cruise line time limitation for filing suit did not apply to ADA cases. As for false advertising, etc,. the court held this charge should stand since the passenger ticket is a contract of adhesion, entirely written by the cruise line; any ambiguity in the contract has to be decided against the scrivener of the contract.
The case of Tammy Stevens v. Premier is a paradox even though Stevens won in her appeal. Stevens booked a cruise with Premier on their S.S. Oceanic, a smaller and old cruise ship; one of those discards from another cruise line that did not want to bring the vessel up to SOLAS 74. The ship was listed as having only one wheel chair accessible cabin. Reading the published decision one has to wonder how the Plaintiff could expect any cruise line to be able to satisfy her special needs. While aboard the vessel the Plaintiff determined it was not wheel chair accessible. The trial court dismissed the suit on the grounds foreign flagged cruise ships were not subject to ADA. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd circuit ruled that foreign flagged cruise lines were subject to title III of ADA.. The trial court decision was reversed and the case "remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
The case of Walker, Plaintiff v. Carnival Cruise Line, and two travel agents as defendants This case had some of the ingredients brought to light in the Steven case in that the facilities provided were supposed to be acceptable to a wheelchair bound passenger, but were not. The Plaintiff filed suit in California whereas the passenger ticket forum clause required filing suit in Florida. The travel agencies plead they were not liable for the cruise line failure to provide appropriate accessible accommodations.
The trial court dismissed the suit against the Defendant, Carnival but refused to dismiss the suit against the travel agents. The logic of the judge was that it was pre-mature to rule on whether the travel agencies were liable or not. A determination has to be made if they relied on what Carnival told then or whether title III require no more than what travel agents normally do for non-disabled passengers.
The case was re-tried on Feb. 10,2000 in the U.S. District Court, N.D, which reversed the earlier decision hold that the forum clause in the Carnival passenger ticket "was unfair to these Plaintiffs as enforcement would deprive them of their day in court due to their physical and economic disabilities." While the two travel agents were defendants in the re-trial , there was no reference as to what happened to them. Carnival petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari that was denied.