Medico-Legal Translations for Work Injuries in International Waters

Medicolegal Translation Services for Employment Injuries on the High Seas

We recently blogged about medico-legal translation services for lawsuits filed by travelers against airlines and cruise lines and the translation issues that can arise during the course of these types of international disputes. Similarly, in the cases discussed below, the plaintiffs sustained injuries in international waters while working on a foreign cruise ship and shipping vessel. At issue in both cases was whether courts had jurisdiction over the defendant companies based overseas.

Cruise Ship Performer Injured in International Waters Can’t Sue in Florida

Fincantieri-Cantieri Navali Italiani v. Yuzwa

In this case, the plaintiff was injured in international waters while performing as a dancer aboard a cruise ship built in Italy. The plaintiff was at rehearsal when a stage lift crushed his foot. At the time of the plaintiff’s injuries, the ship was sailing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.

The plaintiff was a Canadian citizen and the Italian-built cruise ship was owned by Holland America Line, a subsidiary of Carnival cruise lines headquartered in Seattle, Washington. The cruise ship was built in Italy pursuant to a contract with a Netherlands Antilles corporation and the Miami-based Carnival Corporation (“Corporation.”) The subject agreement was signed in London and was governed by English law.

Following his injuries, the plaintiff filed a complaint in Florida state court alleging claims for negligence, strict products liability, and breach of express and implied warranty.

Italian Shipbuilder Files Motion to Dismiss

Thereafter, the defendant shipbuilder filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. In support of his motion, the shipbuilder submitted evidence consisting of sworn proof that contested the plaintiff’s jurisdictional allegations. The plaintiff, in turn, submitted his own declarations along with the deposition transcript of a senior executive employed by the Italian shipbuilder.

The trial court denied the shipbuilder’s motion to dismiss following a non-evidentiary hearing. The trial court determined that it had both general and specific jurisdiction over the defendants. The court determined that jurisdiction existed due to the defendant’s long-standing business relationship with Carnival, numerous contracts with Carnival, and the fact that the defendant maintained an office in Florida and held frequent meetings with Carnival there regarding the building of cruise ships. The shipbuilder appealed.

Florida Appeals Court Reverses

The District Court of Appeal of Florida disagreed with the trial court’s jurisdictional analysis and reversed its decision accordingly. The Court of Appeal held that the defendant Italian shipbuilder was not subject to general jurisdiction in Florida because its contacts were not sufficiently “continuous and systematic” to render it “at home” in the state of Florida.

In so holding, the court reasoned that the defendant was an Italian corporation, its principal place of business was in Italy, and the majority of the defendant’s 7,000 employees were employed at the defendant’s offices in Italy. In addition, all of the defendant’s officers and directors resided in Italy. Although the court acknowledged that the defendant did maintain an office in Miami, Florida, the court held that the evidence supported the defendant’s position that the purpose of this office, which had only one employee, was to serve as a point of contact for ship owners and to direct them to the appropriate contact in Italy. The presence of an office in Miami did not, as the plaintiff suggested, confer general jurisdiction over the Italian corporation.

The court of appeals also found that the defendant shipbuilder was not subject to specific jurisdiction in Florida. The plaintiff had argued that jurisdiction was proper because the defendant operated a business and had an office in Florida and had committed a tortious act within the state. The court held that there was no connection or “connexity” between the plaintiff’s business in Florida and the plaintiff’s claims. Specifically, the court noted that the vessel was not constructed in Florida or purchased in Florida, it was not owned by a Florida entity, and it did not embark from a Florida port. In addition, the plaintiff, a non-Florida resident, was injured in the Pacific Ocean thousands of miles off the coast of Florida. And the vessel was designed in Italy and had been purchased by a French company. Accordingly, because the court held that the plaintiff had failed to establish an adequate connection between Florida and the plaintiff’s claims, the court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claims entirely.

The case is Fincantieri-Cantiere Navali Italiani v. Anthony Yuzwa, Court No. 241 So.3d 938, decided on March 7, 2018 in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District.

Indian National Injured in International Waters Can’t Sue in Louisiana

Vinod Kumar Kahiya v. Talmidge International Ltd.

Similar to the case above, the plaintiff in this case was injured in international waters during the course of his employment on a shipping vessel. The plaintiff, an Indian national, worked as an engine cadet pursuant to a contract with ship crew agency based in Singapore. In 1999, while he was operating the vessel’s incinerator, the plaintiff sustained burn injuries. He was treated briefly for his injuries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2002, the plaintiff filed suit in Louisiana state court. The defendants removed the matter to federal court and sought to compel the defendant to arbitrate his claims pursuant to the employment contract he signed and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, also known as the New York Arbitration Convention. The case was remanded back to state court and, following years of procedural motions and various delays, the state court stayed the case pending arbitration in India.

The arbitration was finally held in January of 2020. At arbitration, the plaintiff was awarded damages of 9,500,000 Indian Rupees or $130,000. Unsatisfied with the amount of the award, the Indian plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate the judgment or to set the matter for trial, arguing that the arbitration award was not enforceable under U.S. law. Before the court could decide the plaintiff’s motion, the defendants again removed the case to federal court and sought confirmation of the arbitration award and the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

The plaintiff filed another motion to remand the case back to state court. The plaintiff argued that the defendants should not be able to remove the case to federal court because removal was untimely and impermissible.

The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s arguments that removal was improper. The court held that removal was timely because the plaintiff could not identify any “final determination” by the state court which would prevent removal under 9 U.S.C. § 205. The court also found that removal was permissible because the defendants were seeking removal on different grounds than before; specifically, the defendants sought removal based on the entry of an award in plaintiff’s favor at the arbitration hearing in India. The further court held that the “entry of an award by a foreign arbitrator was indeed a new ‘event’ that ma[de] a case removable under § 205.”

The case is Vinod Kumar Dahiya v. Talmidge International Ltd., Court No. 20-1527, decided on September 16, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

All Language Alliance, Inc. provides legal document translation services from French, Mongolian, Dutch, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Polish, Traditional Chinese, Punjabi, Thai, Spanish, Amharic, Turkish, Japanese for employment injuries sustained in the high seas.  We also supply court-certified interpreters for depositions and arbitration hearings via Zoom, as well as in-person deposition interpreters and in-person arbitration interpreters in all foreign languages.

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