Some common cruise ship accidents include slip and falls, falling overboard, fallen objects, dock accidents, swimming pool or water slide injuries, injuries on excursions taken on shore, medical malpractice, and sexual or physical assault. When an injury or death occurs on navigable waters rather than in a United States port, maritime law usually applies.
Maritime laws may limit a passenger's right to recover compensation and differ from the usual liability laws of the passenger's state. Under maritime law, a cruise line is liable for a cruise ship accident only if a plaintiff can show that a ship's operator knew or should have known about an unsafe condition on the ship. The Jones Act will apply to help seamen and crew who are injured on a cruise ship or other commercial marine vessel.
When a cruise ship accident occurs in non-navigable waters in the United States, the cruise ship may be considered a common carrier. This means that it has a heightened duty of care to provide safe transportation to passengers. This duty extends to protection against third-party criminal acts like rape, sexual assault, or battery. To honor the obligation to protect passengers' safety, a cruise liner should install security cameras, run background checks, employ enough staff for the number of passengers, and light any public areas.
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For more information about maritime law, including laws pertaining to cruise ships, visit Justia’s Maritime Law Center.
Passenger Ticket Contracts and Liability
Most cruise lines put contract provisions in passenger tickets, which severely restrict the amount of time the passenger has to file a lawsuit. There also may be waivers associated with shipboard activities that can cause injury. In most cases, cruise passengers will have only 180 days after an accident to put the cruise line on notice of the claim, as well as the details associated with it. The cruise passenger may have a limited period of time, such as one year, to bring a lawsuit. Therefore, if you were injured on a cruise ship on which you rode as a passenger, or you were hurt in an excursion sponsored by the cruise line, you should not sit on your claim. You should immediately consult an attorney who has experience pursuing claims against cruise lines.
A forum selection clause in a passenger ticket may limit the location where a lawsuit may be brought. Some cruise liners, for example, restrict passengers so that they can only bring lawsuits in cities with major ports, such as Miami, Seattle or Los Angeles, even if the cruise liner recruits passengers in another state, such as Illinois. Injured plaintiffs have been able to challenge forum selection clauses on the grounds that they didn't receive the cruise contract early enough to be able to cancel without incurring a cancellation fee.
Finally, the passenger ticket may also have a "choice of law" clause. This clause specifies what law is to be applied in the event of a dispute. The substantive and procedural law that is applied to an injured passenger's case can dramatically affect the outcome of the case. In deciding whether to uphold these clauses, courts will consider where the wrongful act happened, the domicile of the injured passenger, the cruise line's allegiance, the place of the contract, the accessibility of a foreign forum, and the law of the forum.
Cruise Ship Disappearances
Passenger disappearances and passengers falling overboard have occurred on cruise ships. A family may be able to hold a cruise line responsible when a passenger is lost overboard. Some common reasons for these disappearances are intoxication from alcohol served in a ship's bar, violent actions by crew members, failure to perform adequate rescue operations, defective handrails, and failing to warn of rough waters.
A cruise line has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent passenger disappearances and perform a search and rescue if a disappearance occurs.
Defective handrails, for example, are those that don't meet the Cruise Safety Act of 2010. This law requires cruise ships to have handrails that are at least 42 inches above the cabin deck. A cruise line may be found negligent if it does not follow this law. Similarly, a cruise line has a duty not to serve passengers alcohol to the point of intoxication and to warn passengers of any dangers that are known or should be known. On most cruise ships, deck officers are aware the ship is entering rough water and should warn passengers about the dangers of standing by a rail during that time.
Once a missing passenger is reported to a cruise line, it has a duty to perform a search and rescue. An inadequate search and rescue or failure to conduct this recue can be considered negligence.