New book examines travel-related lawsuits Law: 70 percent of legal actions against the travel industry are successful, 'Travel Law' says.

March 15, 1998|By Barbara Shea | Barbara Shea,NEWSDAY

It's not the sort of page-turner you'd keep on your night stand, but a new academic tome titled "Travel Law: Cases and Materials" does provide some fascinating reading.

Written by three law professors -- from Florida's Nova Southeastern University, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Southern California's Pepperdine University -- it details countless suits involving airlines, cruise lines, hotels, travel agents, tourist attractions and other travel providers, discussing why rulings went the way they did.

Each topical chapter concludes with a list of relevant novels, films and Web sites, and there's also travel trivia: hotels known through various movies -- or headlines (involving such notables as sportscaster Marv Albert and President Clinton).

"After writing this book, I never want to travel again," joked its originator and co-author Robert M. Jarvis of Nova's Shepard Broad Law Center.

So most consumers lose their travel cases? Nope. Seventy percent of lawsuits filed against the industry are successful, according to the book. And though only 3 percent of plaintiffs get verdicts of more than $1 million, more than half recover in excess of $100,000. The bulk of travel litigation consists of personal-injury actions.

Though lawsuits represent only 1 percent of travelers who encounter problems, Jarvis reminds his students that this still translates to a lot of people -- and burgeoning opportunity for the few attorneys who specialize in travel law.

Not that every vacation incident is a shoo-in. To illustrate how quickly the law can pop your balloon, Jarvis cast a legal eye on one common (embellished) scenario:

You're bumped from a flight and miss your meeting with Al Pacino, who had allotted three minutes to clinch a deal on your screenplay before leaving for parts unknown, never to return. You sue, charging that the airline has deprived you of fame and fortune by causing you to miss the chance of a lifetime.

"You're going to be a loser," Jarvis said, because the law is very clear on overbooking compensation, and the airline couldn't have foreseen your circumstances.

Even if you'd expressed the urgency of your journey in advance, the carrier would then have two choices: It could enter into a special contract with you, in which case it's allowed to charge you whatever fare it thinks would cover the added responsibility. Or it could decide it doesn't want to accept such a burden -- and refuse to sell you a ticket at any price. (A hotel's liability regarding valuables stowed in its safe is limited similarly, Jarvis said.)

Many cases cited in the book were settled out of court -- which is what usually happens, Jarvis said, because so many circumstances can arise in the course of a trip that may be disappointing but couldn't reasonably be prevented. Time drags complainants get tired and give up, or accept a sweetened peace offering from the travel provider -- which eventually wants to put an end to any bad publicity that may have arisen.

Occasional travelers might not need to keep such a weighty legal volume on their bookshelves (especially at $80 a copy), but "Travel Law" could be a handy reference in your local library. Or the perfect gift for your lawyer. It's published by Carolina Academic Press; 919-489-7486.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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