By: Morgan Gaynor
Most people understand that they may be subject to different laws when
they travel to other states or countries. However, those are not the only
places where they might not get the protection of Florida law. There are
many places and things outside the reach of Florida law, and some of them
may come as a surprise.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino just outside Tampa is one example.
The casino actually sits on an Indian reservation. The reservation is
largely governed by Seminole Indian law rather than Florida law.
It may be an overstatement to say an Indian reservation is like its own
country, because Indian tribes have a complex legal relationship with
the federal government. Nevertheless, in most cases reservations will
apply their own laws to conduct which occurs within their borders. Federal
courts have decided that Indians generally get to govern themselves, and
that states don’t get to interfere by imposing their legal rules.
Therefore, if one suffers a slip-and-fall accident on the reservation,
they may be surprised to learn that the Seminole Indian Tribe will apply
its own laws and rules to that accident. An injured person can get caught
in a maze of treaties and agreements outside the experience of most people
- and lawyers.
Another example is accidents on the water. Most people assume Florida law
applies to them when they are on Florida’s waters. That’s
not always true. While landlocked lakes are governed by Florida law, waterways
which connect to other states or countries are not. Cases which arise
on such water highways, legally referred to as “navigable waters,”
are governed by federal maritime law.
There are some important differences between Florida and maritime law.
One of them - a shorter time limit (“statute of limitations”)
for maritime injury lawsuits - can be a case killer for people who don’t
assert their rights promptly.
Contracts can also present traps for the unwary. We all sign agreements
for things as varied as cell phone service and health club memberships
in our daily lives. What we might not have on our radar is fine print
“choice of law” clauses in those agreements. It can be a rude
shock to find out that a dispute arising from our gym membership will
be subject to the law of Texas or Delaware.
In fact, some agreements go further than applying another state’s
law. They actually require any dispute to be heard in another state’s
courts. That means an aggrieved consumer might have to file even a relatively
low-dollar lawsuit on the other side of the country. While not all contracts
of this type can be legally enforced, some can, and an average consumer
could not be expected to know the difference.
In other words, knowing which law will protect you can be a tricky business.
Things which seem obvious might not be as simple as one thinks. That’s
why a person in doubt about their rights should consult a lawyer promptly.
It then becomes the lawyer’s job to analyze the case carefully and
be prepared for all the possibilities.