(CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a woman’s injury claim against an Italian cruise line, saying her failure to sue the right party was simply a case of mistaken identity.
“That a plaintiff knows of a party’s existence does not preclude her from making a mistake with respect to that party’s identity,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the unanimous court.
Wanda Krupski tripped on a cable and fractured her femur aboard the Costa Magica cruise ship, owned and operated by Costa Crociere S.p.A.
But instead of suing Costa Crociere, Krupski sued Florida-based Costa Cruise, believing it was the official carrier. Her ticket listed Costa Cruise as the “sales and marketing agent” for the carrier.
The Florida company notified Krupski that she sued the wrong party, but Krupski wasn’t immediately convinced. She cited several reasons for believing she was right: Costa Cruise was written all over her ticket; its website listed Costa Cruise as the U.S. office for Costa Crociere; and Costa Cruise’s claim administrator never once mentioned Costa Crociere. She also pointed out that “crociere” means “cruise” in Italian.
She eventually conceded that Costa Cruise was the wrong party, but by the time she added Costa Crociere as a defendant, the 120-day statute of limitations had expired.
The district court dismissed the case against the Italian carrier as too late, and the 11th Circuit in Atlanta affirmed.
Krupski appealed, citing a federal rule allowing a late claim to “relate back” to the original filing date if the newly named defendant “knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.”
She argued that her failure to name the right party was such a mistake, and that Costa Crociere knew it all along — a position clearly embraced by the justices during oral arguments.
In its ruling Monday, the Supreme Court said the 11th Circuit improperly focused on Krupski’s knowledge of the Italian carrier’s existence rather than Costa Crociere’s knowledge of her mistake.
“[A] plaintiff might know that the prospective defendant exists but nonetheless harbor a misunderstanding about his status or role in the events giving rise to the claim at issue, and she may mistakenly choose to sue a different defendant based on that misunderstanding,” Sotomayor wrote.
The justices also rejected the lower court’s finding that Krupski took too long to file her amended complaint. They called the delay “immaterial” to the pertinent issue: whether Krupski’s failure to sue the right party was a legitimate mistake.
And on this issue, the justices sided with Krupski.
“Nothing in Krupski’s conduct … suggests that she failed to name Costa Crociere because of anything other than a mistake,” Sotomayor wrote.
“Indeed, Costa Crociere is evidently aware that the difference between Costa Cruise and Costa Crociere can be confusing for cruise ship passengers.”