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Florida Third DCA rules that federal admiralty jurisdiction applies to tort case for injury sustained by passenger riding on an escalator to embark on cruise

On January 3, 2018, in Carnival Corporation v. Garcia, No. 3D17-0445, the Florida Third DCA reversed a trial court’s denial of a defendant cruise line’s motion to dismiss a negligence complaint against it based on a forum selection provision in the ticket contract that required all legal claims with federal subject matter jurisdiction to be litigated in federal court in Miami. The plaintiff had successfully contested admiralty jurisdiction before the trial court because the injury occurred prior to embarkation.

On review, the Third DCA cited Jerome B. Grubart v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 513 U.S. 527, 534 (1995), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a party seeking to invoke federal admiralty jurisdiction over a tort claim must satisfy conditions both of location and connection with maritime activity: “[a] court applying the location test must determine whether the tort occurred on navigable water or whether injury suffered on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water. The connection test raises two issues. A court, first, must assess the general features of the type of incident involved, to determine whether the incident has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce. Second, a court must determine whether the general character of the activity giving rise to the incident shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.”

The Third DCA concluded that both tests were met in the present case. Regarding the location test, the Court likened the case to several previous cases finding admiralty jurisdiction where passengers were injured during the unloading process. Regarding the connection or “connectivity” test, sometimes referred to as the “nexus” test, the Court concluded that where an alleged failure to provide for safe boarding is alleged, the potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce shows a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity.