Different Laws Can Create Traps for the Unwary

Different Laws Can Create Traps for the Unwary

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.

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