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Brett Rivkind
Brett Rivkind
Attorney • (305) 374-0565

Seaman’s Employment Agreement Void as Against Public Policy

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In the case of Sergio Cardona Bonilla v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno of the Southern District of Florida has ruled that the arbitration agreement in the seaman’s employment contract with Carnival Cruise lines is void because it violates the public policy of the United States.

Sergio Cardona suffered a serious back injury while working for Carnival Cruise Line as a stateroom steward. He underwent a major back operation. Suit was filed against Carnival Cruise Line for damages, asserting claims under the Jones Act for negligence, unseaworthiness under the general maritime law, as well as a claim for maintenance and cure under the general maritime law. The action was filed in the State Circuit Court in Dade County Florida by our firm.

Carnival immediately filed a notice of removal based on their claim that the seaman’s claims were subject to an arbitration clause contained in the employment agreement. Carnival argued that removal was proper pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the "Convention").

Once the action was removed, Carnival then filed a motion to compel arbitration in accordance with the agreement to arbitrate. Our firm filed a motion to remand and an opposition to the motion to compel arbitration on the basis that the arbitration clause violated the public policy of the United States because Carnival included a choice of law clause in the employment agreement that required the arbitrator to apply foreign law to the claims. We argued this was impermissible because the plaintiff had statutory rights under the Jones Act, a statue enacted for the benefit of seamen by the United States Congress in 1920. We argued Mr. Bonilla could not be denied his United States statutory claims by an arbitration agreement because to do so would violate the public policy of the United States.

Chief Judge Moreno of the Southern District of Florida agreed with us and denied the motion to compel arbitration on the basis that the agreement violated public policy. Accordingly, since the arbitration agreement was void and was the basis for removal, Judge Moreno remanded the case back to the state court, leaving plaintiff with his United States law claims and his right to a jury trial. This is a very important victory for Mr. Bonilla because under the Jones Act he does have a right to a jury trial and he will now be able to have his day in the court he chose, with a jury.

Our firm continues to be safety advocates for passengers and crew members injured at sea.

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