(Jamaica Gleaner) An increasing number of assault, rape, negligence and personal-injury cases are being filed against Jamaican resorts in federal courts in the United States (US).
That’s according to Jamaican-American attorney-at-law Michel Morgan, who specialises in commercial, general and liability cases. Morgan, who is based in South Florida, also manages state and federal lawsuits on behalf of corporations.
She made the disclosure last Friday while addressing a business seminar aimed at educating local tourism and casino industry interests on liability and business operation issues associated with providing services to visitors, namely residents of the US.
The seminar, hosted by local law firm, Clayton Morgan & Associates, was held at Sandals Montego Bay resort in St James.
“There has been considerable growth in the number of lawsuits that have been filed against Jamaican-based hospitality industry resorts in the United States Federal Court,” Morgan told the seminar, which had Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett in attendance.
HEAVY FOCUS ON JAMAICA
Morgan noted that Jamaica is among the top four Caribbean countries in terms of visitors from the US. The others are the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and The Bahamas. She said the worrying development of the lawsuits is being reported in the US media, with a heavy focus on Jamaica.
The attorney explained why US citizens choose to file suits against Jamaican businesses in the United States, as opposed to Jamaica, where the injury or other matter occurred.
According to her, most US-based attorneys will take a personal-injury case on a contingency-fee agreement, meaning that there are no upfront, out-of-pocket costs for the plaintiff.
Other factors include the length of time US law allows the complainant to bring a suit, the right to a jury trial in the United States, and the award of damages in the US, which Morgan said are usually “exponential” for the type of injury claims that arise.
Morgan explained further that there is no cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded in the US, and the loser is not required to pay, as in that country, each party bears their own costs.
HEFTY LEGAL FEES
“These are some of the issues that are important to recognise as a Jamaican resort or hospitality industry beneficiary, to understand why a United States citizen tries to sue your corporation in the United States rather than on the island,” said Morgan.
The attorney noted that a further disadvantage for Jamaica when cases are litigated in the United States is the cost. She pointed out that personal-injury cases can last from five to eight years, during which time the defendant resort could be faced with legal fees costing between US$300 and US$600 per hour. In the end, such cases could cost two to three times the amount they would cost if they were litigated in Jamaica.
The seminar was told that among the issues that are considered before a case is litigated in a US court is the matter of jurisdiction. As such, the question of whether a US court has jurisdiction over a Jamaican resort arises.
Morgan also urged resort owners to pay attention to issues such as where a resort is incorporated, where its bank accounts are located, where it pays taxes and conducts its core business, as well as where and how it advertises its products. These, she explained, could establish minimal contact and help determine where a case is tried.