Royal Caribbean cruisers hoping to get in on a class-action lawsuit seeking refunds for purchases of travel insurance through the cruise line appear for now to be out of luck.
A federal judge in Miami dismissed a suit by two passengers who claimed the company violated state law by failing to disclose “kickbacks” earned from sales of travel insurance that passengers purchase when they buy their cruise tickets online.
In an order signed on Monday, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungar sided with Royal Caribbean’s motion to dismiss claims by plaintiffs Roger and Maureen Carretta on grounds that the fine print in their ticket contracts prevented them from filing suit.
Meanwhile, similar suits against American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line continue to wind their way through the courts.
One of the defendants, American Airlines, agreed in September to settle claims against it for $25 million but is now threatening to withdraw from the agreement in a dispute over attorney fees, according to a recent filing in that case.
In all of the suits, the plaintiffs contend that the travel companies misled them by creating the impression they were merely collecting the purchase price on behalf of the insurance companies providing the coverage. In reality, the suits claim, the companies were earning a “kickback” that inflated the cost to consumers beyond what they otherwise should have paid.
Failure by the travel companies to acknowledge their financial interest in selling the insurance policies violates Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the suits allege.
But Ungar dismissed the claim against Royal Caribbean before that assertion could be debated. Instead, the judge agreed with the cruise line’s contention that by agreeing to restrictions in their ticket contracts, the couple waived their right to bring a class-action suit or to file any claim later than six months after the end of their cruise.
The Carrettas’ suit was filed on Sept. 21, about 14 months after their cruise ended on July 22, 2017, Ungar’s order said.
The plaintiffs had argued that the restrictions did not apply to their claim. Their ticket contracts specifically applied the restrictions to “the Carrier’s Royal Caribbean Travel Protection Program,” but the insurance policy wasn’t “the Carrier’s” because it was issued by a third-party provider, Arch Insurance, they said.
Ungar ruled that the definition of Carrier in the ticket contract extends to Royal Caribbean as the insurance agent that sold the policy.
“The plain and common sense construction of [the language] is that it seeks to make clear that the terms of the ticket contract extend to all of the products that Royal Caribbean considers to be part of its Travel Protection Program,” the order states.
The lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the case did not respond to questions Wednesday about whether plans to refile the claim are underway.
Carnival Cruise Line, responding to an almost identical suit filed against it by the same law firm on behalf of six plaintiffs and possible future class members, filed a motion on Nov. 13 asking the court to stay the suit and require the sides to enter arbitration.
Its motion, filed by Stuart H. Singer of Fort Lauderdale-based Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, contends that language in the plaintiffs’ ticket contracts requires claims to be settled through arbitration rather than in court. The court has not yet ruled on Carnival’s motion.
And in the suit against American Airlines, attorneys for plaintiff Kristian Zamber on Nov. 21 asked the court to enforce a settlement agreement they said the parties agreed to on Sept. 14. A draft of the proposed agreement filed by Zamber’s law firm, Miami-based Leon Cosgrove LLP, indicates that American Airlines agreed to establish a $25 million common fund that would refund consumers $11 for each travel insurance policy purchase.
In its motion, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said American Airlines and its insurer, AGA Service Co., threatened to withdraw from the agreement if the law firm did not agree to limit its fee award to 10 percent of the $25 million fund.
A spokesman for American Airlines declined to respond Wednesday to a request for comment about the filing, saying it involved ongoing litigation.
However, in it its own motion, the airline said no settlement agreement has been signed by the named parties in the case, nor been presented to or approved by the court. Negotiations fell apart, the airline said, because the plaintiffs demanded that the settlement agreement be finalized before negotiating the size of attorneys’ fees that would be awarded.
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