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Eleventh Circuit Compels Cruise Ship Worker to Arbitrate Injury Claims

We’re written extensively in recent months on the topic of the enforceability of arbitration agreements in employment contracts and the scope of such agreements (i.e., what types of claims are covered by the arbitration agreement). As we’ve noted, Georgia state and federal courts view arbitration agreements favorably and are inclined to enforce them, absent unusual circumstances.

A recent Eleventh Circuit decision reinforces this conclusion. In Martinez v. Carnival Corporation, a cruise ship worker sued Carnival Cruise Lines for two distinct injuries: (1) a back injury he sustained on the job; and (2) additional injuries caused by the malpractice of a surgeon to whom Carnival sent him for treatment. The employee signed an employment agreement under which he agreed that “any and all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Agreement . . . shall be referred to and finally resolved by arbitration.” The district court compelled the employee to arbitrate his claims, and he appealed.

On appeal, the employee argued that (among other things) the arbitration provision did not cover the medical malpractice claim because it did not arise under his employment contract. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. Because the employee’s contract required Carnival to provide him with medical treatment, it held that his medical malpractice claim “clearly arose of out of or in connection with the [employment contract] and is subject to arbitration.

”This result is not surprising. As noted above, Georgia state and federal courts favor arbitration. Further, as the Martinez court noted, “when parties agree to arbitrate some matters pursuant to an arbitration clause, the ‘law’s permissive policies in respect to arbitration counsel that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitration should be resolved in favor of arbitration.’” That means that where, as in Martinez, an issue presents a close call, the employer will get the benefit of the doubt and the case will be referred to arbitration.

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