Mentally Incompetent Cruise Line Passengers

Where Cruise Line Passenger Is Mentally Incompetent The One-Year Ticket Limitation To Bring Suit Does Not Apply In Place Of The Standard Admiralty Three-Year Statute Of Limitations

In BOEHNEN vs. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, INC., CASE NO. 3D99-2001 COURT OF APPEAL FLORIDA, THIRD DISTRICT 2001 Fla. App. LEXIS 2487; 26 Fla. L. Weekly D 666, the issue of the statute of limitations for an action by a mentally incompetent against a cruise lines was raised. By statute, a cruise line with a properly worded ticket can limit the time for the filing of a lawsuit to a period of not less than one year. Normally the statute of limitations for an admiralty action would be 3 years. However almost every, if not every, cruise line uses a one-year limitation.

On September 10, 1995, Tonya Boehnen accompanied her mother Vivian Boehnen on a seven-day cruise aboard Carnival’s cruise ship “Sensation.” At the time of the cruise, Tonya was a nineteen-year-old mentally handicapped young woman with the intellectual capacity of a fourth grade student. During the cruise, Froilan Mariano, a thirty-seven year old entertainer employed by Carnival, sexually assaulted Tonya. As a result, Tonya became pregnant and, in June 1996, gave birth to a boy.

On September 10, 1998, Tonya brought suit against Carnival, in her own capacity, alleging breach of contract of carriage and vicarious liability for sexual assault and battery. The trial court dismissed the claims as time barred due to a provision in the ticket, which required any action against Carnival be brought within one year of the alleged injury. Vivian then had Tonya formally declared incompetent, had herself appointed as limited Guardian, and filed an amended complaint on Tonya’s behalf on March 29, 1999. The trial court held that the action was still time barred and dismissed the amended complaint with prejudice.

The appellate court reversed the dismissal of the law suit on the basis that the statute that allows for a shortened limitation period of one year was not applicable to a mentally incompetent persons when no legal guardian has been appointed by reason of 46 U.S.C. § 183b. The court held that since the mentally incompetent filed suit within three years, it was timely, even though a guardian was not appointed until after the three-year period.

The lesson to be learned from this case is that when dealing with a situation where a guardian or representative has to be appointed the one-year ticket limitation may not apply. It might be that the court was looking for a way to help the mentally incompetent passenger. The next court might not be so understanding. As such, your attorney suggests that the safest course of action would be to have the representative appointed and suit brought within one year.