A Florida appellate panel will not dismiss litigation against Royal Caribbean over a volcano eruption that injured cruise passengers, saying Wednesday the company did not sufficiently dispute a lower court’s finding that a contract requiring disputes to be dealt with in Australian court did not apply.
Ean-Hui Ooi was burned when the White Island Volcano in New Zealand erupted during her trip, but the ticket contract at issue was between her and a separate United Kingdom entity called RCL Cruises Ltd. and has a forum selection clause, which Royal Caribbean leaned on in seeking to dismiss the litigation.
Yet in an opinion penned by Third District Court of Appeal Judge Kevin Emas, a panel backed the trial court’s denial of the bid and said the lower court found the forum clause applied only to RCL and Ooi.
In ruling against Royal Caribbean, the judge also dismissed affidavits from directors generally laying out the commercial relationship and responsibilities between RCL and the cruise company. And Judge Emas wrote that affidavits from Royal Caribbean didn’t create a factual dispute regarding the lower court’s determination.
“Because Royal Caribbean’s affidavits failed to present a disputed factual issue related to the trial court determination that the forum selection clause did not apply to the instant lawsuit filed by Ooi against Royal Caribbean, no evidentiary hearing was necessary,” according to Judge Emas’ opinion.
Ooi was just one of the victims of the December 2019 eruption, which killed 22 people and, per the appellate opinion, saw numerous lawsuits against Royal Caribbean filed in Miami and abroad.
The opinion said Ooi alleges Royal Caribbean approved the promotion and sale of the excursion and that her arrangements for the excursion were made with Royal Caribbean.
Counsel for both parties could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Judges Bronwyn Miller, Kevin Emas and Alexander Bokor sat on the panel for the Third District Court of Appeal.
Ooi was represented by Jason Margulies, Michael Winkleman and Jacqueline Garcell of Lipcon Margulies & Winkleman PA.
Royal Caribbean was represented by Jerry Hamilton, Carlos Chardon and Michael Dono of Hamilton Miller Birthisel LLP.
The case is Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. v. Ean-Hui Ooi, case number 3D22-1100, in the Third District Court of Appeal, State of Florida.