Foreign Resorts present special hazards for American tourists. People have sustained life threatening injuries or death on a water trampoline or have otherwise been injured due to unsafe conditions caused by the negligence of a foreign resort. Shamefully, Americans have even been sexually assaulted by resort personnel and have faced barrier after barrier to obtaining justice in state and federal courts in the U.S. Lawsuits have been dismissed without ever reaching the merits and injured person’s claim.
Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court has taken a strong step today toward clearing the way for victims to have their day in the Florida Courts and hold companies accountable for the misdeeds of their employees, even if the wrongful acts were committed offshore.
A California woman named Shahla M. Rabie Cortez was vacationing at the Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort in Cancun, Mexico.
As an inducement to attending one of those dreaded time share presentations, she was given certain benefits including a complementary massage. What should have been a relaxing way to forget about the sales pitch turned into nightmare. Ms. Cortez was sexually assaulted by a masseur on the hotel’s property.
Ms. Cortez brought suit against the Palace Resorts entities. She alleged that the time share program benefits, including the massage, were part of a “timeshare-marketing scheme“. She filed suit against the “designers” of her vacation package, including several corporations based in Miami, Florida, stating that the companies’ goal of enticing vacationers such as herself to travel to the Mexican resort was in actuality “to lure [the travelers] into a fine-tuned sales program for timeshares.”
Miami-Dade County Circuit Court was chosen by Ms. Cortez as the forum for her lawsuit against Florida business entities Palace Resorts, Inc., Palace Resorts, LLC and Tradco, Ltd, all of whom have their principal place of business in Miami and are alleged to be responsible for the marketing, planning and promotion of vacations to the Palace Resorts in Mexico.
These Florida corporations moved to dismiss the lawsuit not on the merits, but instead based on the remarkable claim that Florida was not a convenient forum for this suit to be heard! After all, one can’t expect Florida corporations based in Miami to be able properly to defend a lawsuit brought against them in Miami-Dade County can one? Surely, 73 West Flagler Street
couldn’t possibly be a convenient forum for such companies defend a lawsuit now could it?
As astounding as this argument sounds, not only were the Palace Resorts successful in having the lawsuit dismissed on this basis at the Circuit Court level, a majority of the panel on the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal!
The Palace Resorts companies are right on in their argument said the majority. These Florida defendants should not have to defend themselves in Miami. Why is a Californian suing Floridians in Florida? Cancun is the place for this lawsuit.
Case dismissed – so sorry we are.
Why should it matter to the Court if the plaintiff lives in California or New York or for that matter, anywhere else in the US but Florida, if the lawsuit is brought against a Florida corporation in Florida?
Well, there was one Judge who saw it differently. Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, in the Third District Court of Appeal,
framed the issue as follows:
The Florida Defendants, with a straight face, claim that [Mexico] is a more convenient forum to litigate a United States citizen’s negligent vacation packaging claim against them, although Miami is where their corporate headquarters is located, all the Palace Resort hotels’ vacation packages are approved, and all customer complaints are investigated. Because Miami is the operational, managerial, and marketing center for the entire Palace Resorts group, the Florida Defendants control marketing and sales, and Miami is the record keeping center for the Mexican Palace Resorts hotels, it is difficult to understand how, based on Cortez’s causes of action, Mexico would be a more convenient forum. (emphasis supplied)
Judge Rothenberg rightfully called out the Palace Resorts companies for their Chutzpah. Today, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Judge Rothenberg’s analysis and reinstated Ms. Rabie Cortez’s lawsuit. In summary, the Supreme Court said that the District Court of Appeal had got it all wrong when it denied an American’s choice of Florida as the forum for her lawsuit against a foreign resort. The victim, who has suffered so much, can now have her day in Florida Court.
The Palace Resorts companies have a lot of explaining to do for their actions. They will get their chance, but they will have to do their explaining to the civil justice system in South Florida – not Mexico.