Foreign Supplier Jurisdiction. Generally, you can sue in a U.S. court if a foreign supplier has a "presence" in a U.S. forum you might use. Especially in states with "long arm" statutes, presence has been defined pretty liberally to include a supplier that maintains an office and bank account or even one that conducts business through an agent within a U.S. jurisdiction. Cases Judge Dickerson cites have gone either way, however, with seemingly little rationale for the differences. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court decision appears to raise the bar slightly on a threshold for jurisdiction over foreign companies and individuals. My take: If you have a legitimate damage claim against a foreign supplier, you may be able to exercise jurisdiction, but don't count on it.
Risky Shore Excursions. On a big cruise ship, you're probably quite safe, but not so much on some shore excursions. Judge Dickerson cites a depressingly long list of serious mishaps, including death and paralysis, resulting from a shore excursion gone wrong. Although cruise lines routinely disclaim liability for anything that happens on a shore excursion, such a disclaimer may not excuse a cruise line from liability. The decision of whether jurisdiction applies seems to vary, but plaintiffs seem to do better when the cruise line failed to warn them of risks or were negligent in selection of operators.
Duty to Warn. In a related situation, Judge Dickerson notes that travel agents and Internet travel sellers carry a duty to warn you if you're considering a trip that poses a risk. Courts have often held against agents that have failed to provide basic travel information, such as the need for a visa, the availability and condition of recommended hotels, flights, cruises and the financial stability and responsibility of tour operators. This "standard of care" can also extend to tour escorts and third-party organizations that arrange tours, including group travel through schools, universities and professional associations, making them subject to personal jurisdiction in many cases.
Post-Accident Medical Care. Judge Dickerson's analysis seems to indicate that cruise lines may enjoy relative immunity from jurisdiction for actions by onboard doctors or of shore facilities to which a cruise line transfers sick or injured passengers. Conclusion: Buy travel insurance and take control of your treatment, yourself; don't rely on the cruise line.
Needless, to say, questions of law such as these are quite complex. As a non-lawyer, I'm trying to convey the main thrust of what a distinguished legal scholar has provided. But when you think you might have a case, don't take my statements as the final word: Instead, get a good lawyer!
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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