Battered at Sea: The Liability of Cruise Ship Companies for Passenger Injuries
Taking a cruise is supposed be a relaxing and joyful experience punctuated with stops at exotic locales for sightseeing and exposure to foreign cultures. Along with the normal assumption of having a good time, passengers must put trust in the crew and captain to operate the ship responsibly with a constant eye to protecting passengers’ safety. Lapses in sound judgment among a ship’s crew that result in passenger injury typically result in personal injury lawsuits as injured parties attempt to hold the cruise ship company accountable. While stories about outbreaks of the norovirus on cruise ships have been in the news for some time now, there is also the threat of inclement weather that could damage a ship, leaving passengers stranded or directly result in passenger injuries. Cruise passengers on a recent trip out of New Jersey received an unpleasant scare when the ship’s captain decided to sail through a powerful storm that had hurricane-force winds. The ship sustained damage to parts of the public deck and guest staterooms, and several passengers were injured. The question that arises for a lot of people in response to that story is “What is the liability of the cruise ship company for injuries suffered due to crew negligence?”
Admiralty Law and Maritime Law
Figuring out the potential liability of a cruise ship company is a little more complicated than suing the local grocery store after slipping on a wet floor. This is because the federal government regulates navigation over open waters of ships registered in the U.S. using admiralty law. In general, ship carriers have a duty to exercise a high degree in care when transporting passengers. If an injury or death does occur, admiralty law requires an injured party to show the cruise company was negligent, intentionally performed an unlawful act, or failed to perform a required regulation. However, most cruise companies are registered in the Caribbean and maritime law applies. Liability under maritime law will only be imposed if the ship’s operator knew or should have known about an unsafe condition. In other words, the essential issue is whether the cruise company created an unsafe or foreseeable dangerous condition. If, on the other hand, an injury is due a crew member’s negligence or willful act, most courts will hold the cruise operator responsible regardless of whether the crew member’s actions were foreseeable.
Most of a passenger’s rights against a cruise ship company are outlined on the contract printed on the backside of a boarding ticket. By purchasing and using the ticket, the passenger consents to the company’s terms. Typically, the information listed on the back informs passengers about where they may sue, limitations on liability, and notice requirements. Most ship contracts require injured parties to file a lawsuit in the state where the company is headquartered, which is Florida in most cases. Courts tend to uphold this provision, so it is unlikely a plaintiff could successfully challenge it. In addition, most contracts exclude liability for emotional distress and psychological injuries. Finally, while maritime law gives plaintiffs up to three years from the time of an injury to file suit, most cruise contracts greatly shorten that window.
Talk to an Lawyer
If you suffered any type of injury while a passenger on a cruise ship, it is important to contact an lawyer as soon as possible. The lawyer needs time to review the ship operator’s contract to determine when and where they need to act. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado understands the pain and stress of experiencing an injury through the fault of someone else and is ready to help you with your case. Contact us for a free consultation.