In personal injury cases, whether they are based on maritime law, or state or other federal law, there are generally time limits within which an injured plaintiff must start his or her lawsuit. These time limits are normally referred to as statutes of limitations. In the context of maritime claims and time limits in personal injury cases, there is a provision of federal law that allows owners, masters, managers or agents of vessels to contractually limit the amount of time within which personal injury actions against them can be brought. The provision that specifically recognizes this ability is 46 U.S.C. § 30508(b)(2), which states that the time period for bringing a civil action for personal injury or death can be limited by contract by the owner, master, manager or agent of a vessel transporting passengers or property between United States ports (or United States and international ports). The limitation cannot, under the specific language of the law, be less than a year after the date of the injury or death, however.
Recently, in Melancon v. Carnival Corporation, a federal district court applied this law and dismissed a personal injury claim brought by a passenger against a cruise line. In this case, the plaintiff argued that she lacked the capacity to consent to the terms of the contract, so that the time limitation in the contract did not apply. Based on the facts and the evidence it considered, the court disagreed.
Plaintiff’s Capacity to Consent to the Ticket Terms: Melancon v. Carnival Corporation.
The plaintiff in Melancon v. Carnival Corporation claimed that she was injured shortly after boarding the defendant’s cruise ship. Her ticket contract contained provision that limited the time for bringing personal injury claims. The plaintiff sought to avoid the application of this provision because its application would have made her lawsuit untimely. The crux of the plaintiff’s argument was that because of personal characteristics – she was deaf, mute, visually impaired and functionally illiterate – she lacked the capacity to agree to the terms of the ticket contract.
The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument and dismissed her action. The court stated that while it was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s physical limitations and challenges, the controlling law and facts required that her complaint be dismissed. The court found that:
- The cruise line had clearly established that, based on the language of the ticket contract, the plaintiff had notice of the fact that the time during which she could bring a personal injury claim against the cruise line was limited, and
- The plaintiff did not allege that she was induced or somehow fooled or tricked into entering into the ticket contract
Ultimately, the court found that since the plaintiff did not allege that she was incompetent or that she was fraudulently induced into accepting the terms of the ticket contract, she failed to establish a plausible claim that she did not have the capacity to consent to the terms of the ticket contract.
Statutes of limitations in maritime law, along with other legal limitations and requirements, must be complied with in order to bring legal claims that are valid. If you would like to know more about time limits in maritime litigation, or have been injured and would like to discuss a potential claim, contact the experienced maritime team at the Kolodny Law Firm.