October 15, 2003

Norway crew must bring case in Philippines

A Miami federal judge yesterday rejected a bid by Filipino seamen injured in the SS Norway boiler blast and survivors of those killed to sue Norwegian Cruise Line in the U.S., reports the Miami Herald.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the 10 crew members or their survivors must argue their claims before a labor arbitrator in the Philippines.

The judge's decision could affect not only these 10 Norway cases but possibly thousands of Filipino crewmen with employment contracts negotiated between their government and Norwegian, Carnival and other South Florida-based cruise lines, says the Miami Herald. That would depend on an Atlanta appellate court's review of Seitz's ruling. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would have to decide whether the Filipino seamen's employment contracts require them to pursue injury claims before an arbitrator in the Philippines.

''I never expected to win at this level,'' the Herald reports maritime lawyer William Huggett as saying. "I always expected to win at the 11th Circuit and now I have my chance. It's a big test case.''

Until early this year, says the Herald story. South Florida judges had ruled that injured or killed Filipinos could sue in U.S. courts, saying their employment contracts with the cruise lines fell under federal maritime law.

But of late, says the story, three Miami federal judges -- Paul Huck, James Lawrence King and now Seitz -- have ruled in favor of the cruise lines in their injury disputes with Filipino crew members. The cases before Huck and King were settled before appeal, leaving Seitz's decision likely for appeal because of its monetary magnitude.

Tell a friend: