Local resorts warned about being sued in the United States
Local tourism interests have been warned by a US-based attorney that there has been an increasing number of assault, rape, negligence and personal injury cases being filed against Caribbean resorts in Federal Courts in the United States, with a heavy focus on Jamaica.
Florida-based, Jamaican-American attorney-at-law, Michel Morgan, who specialises in commercial, general and liability cases, made the claim while addressing a business seminar that was held last weekend at Sandals Montego Bay.
Morgan, who manages state and federal lawsuits on behalf of corporations, said Jamaica’s tourism interests should be concerned by the development.
“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 attendees at the seminar which was aimed at educating local tourism and casino industry interests on liability and business operation issues associated with providing services to visitors, in particular residents of the United States.
Morgan 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 is 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.
“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.
Of note is that Sandals has over the past three weeks been forced to defend itself in the media against claims that it has covered up, or has attempted to cover-up, cases of sexual assaults against American visitors to its resorts.
And in November, an article carried by USA Today inflicted a major black eye on the country’s tourism product as it had a litany of alleged sexual assault cases against Jamaican resorts, including Sandals.
Jamaica's tourism product is now undergoing a security audit.
According to a statement from Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett on Monday, Jamaica is committed to creating a new way forward and architecture as it relates to visitor safety and security.
“This exercise of reviewing our security arrangements with a view to improving our infrastructure is not a knee jerk reaction because the whole business of safety and security is fundamental to tourism,” said Bartlett.
“Safety, security and seamlessness underpin the sense of well-being of visitors crossing borders. It is a feeling that must pervade the traveler before they even leave their destination and therefore it is the responsibility of the destination that the well-being of visitors is secure,” Bartlett added.
International tourism security expert Dr Peter Tarlow is currently in the island to provide technical support for the island-wide security audit being carried out by the Tourism Product Development Company. The security audit, which is to be completed by the first half of 2019, will identify gaps and ensure that the destination remains safe, secure and seamless for visitors and locals alike.
Tarlow highlighted that tourism security is really “tourism surety, which includes taking care of visitors; taking care of workers in the industry; taking care of attractions or sites; taking care of the economics and taking care of your reputation.”
For his part, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said “the Jamaica Constabulary Force has placed as part of its priority, public safety, as the visitors themselves will benefit from public safety and security. We are also in the process of strengthening all areas of the police force so that they can not only ensure our citizens of their safety in various communities but provide them with the capacity to expand their capabilities.”