Resort, Tourism & Travel-Related Injuries
Husband and wife married over 15 years, visiting from the United Kingdom, arrived in Florida for a motorcycle tour which ended in their unexpected motor vehicle deaths. A Canadian woman and her friends were amongst the millions of passengers departing yearly from the Port of Miami on a cruise. Her “dream” experience ended in a sexual assault by a crew member. A German honeymoon couple visiting the Dominican Republic were engulfed in flames in a hotel room gas explosion, resulting in disfiguring burns and death.
Every year there are almost 100 million annual visitors to Florida, with more than half landing in South Florida. Information provided by the United States Department of Transportation, the American Association of Port Authorities and Visit Florida confirm that air traffic visitors to Miami International Airport now exceed 44 million per year. New Yorkers alone comprise over 10% of domestic visitors to Florida. Canadians, coming south of the border to Florida destinations, exceed 3.5 million visitors per year.
The cruise ship industry has mandated in their ticket forum selection clause that all passengers litigate in South Florida and, for the past 10 years, specifically, in Federal Court. Tourism is up 2.3% over last year. South Florida serving as the gateway to the Caribbean, Central and South America is often the only or most convenient locality with a nexus to resorts and for Americans injured in the Southern Hemisphere.
Tourism and resort travel have historically been among South Florida’s largest revenue and tax sources. But along with this tremendous contribution to our economy, comes a substantial increase in litigation, stemming from negligent hotel premises and security, cruise line neglect, and the overall congestion and confusion found on our region’s roads and highways.
It’s easy to see why South Florida has become the host of resort tort litigation as diverse driving customs of foreign visitors from Asia to Argentina bring with them their own "rules of the road." Recently, a Florida Keys family was demolished by a British tourist driving on the "wrong side" of the road in a rental car, consistent with United Kingdom vehicle operation, but certainly not Florida law. The United Kingdom driver momentarily "forgot" where he was.
Special considerations in handling resort and tourist torts are not insignificant. The logistics of assisting out-of-state and out-of-country injured visitors, coordinating medical attention and providing a support system are now part of today’s modern legal practice. Often times, a visitor has no connection with South Florida, other than a desire to briefly avoid the harsh winter weather by relaxing and enjoying the South Florida climate and atmosphere. Non-Florida vacationers may be particularly unaware and let their “guard down” to crime and other predictable hazards as they enter the fun resort environment of a South Florida hotel or a 6000-passenger cruise ship. Alcohol consumption is often up, and awareness of crime proportionately down.
Diversity of citizenship and cruise lines’ “contractual” forum selection clauses have increased civil filings in federal court at the insistence of defendants and their insurance carriers. Federal court removals can only be filed by defendants. Prior to 2002, the increased volume of resort visitor cases was primarily the responsibility of the state court system, with the exception of diversity cases. However, a major shift occurred and the federal courts were, accordingly, impacted by the cruise defendants’ venue decision. Fortunately, the resources of federal magistrates and judges are well equipped to handle this litigation and maintain an efficient and timely trial docket. However, the impact on the state court system is somewhat more profound inasmuch as circuit court judges typically lack some of the resources such as law clerks and magistrate coordination. Nonetheless, the typical resort based case is at trial in 18 to 24 months, even with new budgetary restrictions and limited resources in the state system.
Injured visitors are now assisted by advanced technology and electronic transmission of medical records and other important data which have streamlined the process and made it easier to present the facts and effectively represent a client from afar. Additionally, the use of Skype and video conferencing of depositions of witnesses from all over the world, including treating physicians and experts, is an example of how South Florida courts are dealing with resort torts that span boundaries and jurisdictions. Both state and federal court systems have incorporated the presentation of testimony through advanced technology, including enhanced audio visual aids, and the capability of receiving testimony from foreign and remote venues.
Miami is a true global city with an admired civil justice system that has adapted to stay abreast with the necessary protection and rights of foreign visitors. As cruise ship travel grows and our region, as a whole, increases in popularity as an international destination, our courts must find even more ways to stay current with litigation demands.