While most cruise ship passengers thoroughly enjoy their time spent on the high seas without incident, others are not so fortunate. Many people become injured on cruise ships which are often due to some type of negligence on the part of the cruise ship’s operator. The process of filing a claim for a cruise ship injury is dictated by a combination of maritime law, federal regulations and the contractual agreements printed on the back of each ticket.
Cruise ship operators must exercise reasonable care to ensure that people on their ships are safe in accordance with maritime law. Cruise lines can be held liable for injuries sustained by passengers caused by negligence or willful action. It plays no role whether or not the negligence occurred unintentionally or willfully as all passengers have the right to be protected from harm when aboard commercial cruise ships.
Common Carriers and Maritime Law
Common carriers are entities that are in the business of transporting people or goods from one location to another for a fee which includes buses, taxicabs, commercial jetliners, passenger trains, ferry boats and cruise ships. Common carriers or just carriers as they are referred to in the US can be held liable for the injuries of passengers if a plaintiff can prove that negligence took place.
Maritime Law is a body of complex laws, conventions and treaties that govern international private business or other matters involving ships, shipping or crimes committed on open water. Maritime law is highly technical pertaining to where and when a maritime claim can be filed. Cruise ship accidents and claims involve a part of maritime law that pertains to cruise ships only.
Matters involving personal injuries on cruise ships become complicated because cruise ship operators often insert special provisions into their passenger tickets that shorten the time in which passengers can file lawsuits against the cruise line to one year (the normal statute of limitations for maritime matters is three years).
Under general maritime law, cruise ship operators have a duty of reasonable care to all passengers. In other words, it is the cruise line’s responsibility to ensure that no unreasonable risks are present on a ship that can cause injury to passengers. While a passenger may be able to bring a personal injury claim against a cruise ship operator, it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney who is well-versed in maritime law as this area of law is unique and complex.
Common Carrier Accidents – Evidence is Key
In order for a plaintiff to prove a carrier is at fault in a negligence case, he or she must show:
- That the carrier owed the plaintiff a duty (cruise ships must exercise the utmost care and diligence with respect to their passengers).
- That the carrier breached that duty (such as failing to remove water from the floor that caused a passenger to fall down and become injured).
- That the breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries (if it were not for the breach, the injuries would not have occurred).
- That the plaintiff suffered damages (usually physically but could also include emotional distress).
Evidence is very important in cruise ship injury claims and in fact, it plays a key role. A plaintiff must provide evidence which may include:
- Eyewitness testimony – Another passenger present while the incident took place may have personally witnessed negligence on the part of a cruise ship employee that caused the accident to happen. For example, a witness may have seen an employee leave an obstacle on a ship passageway that caused the plaintiff to sustain the claimed injury such as a broken bone.
- Photographic evidence – The plaintiff may have a photograph of something on the ship such as a lack of warning signs or a dangerous staircase that could provide important evidence of the cruise ship’s negligence to warn passengers of danger.
- Inspection records – If a ship’s inspection records show that recommendations were ignored, the carrier (ship) could be held liable for any injuries sustained by passengers which are related to this failure to act.
Types of Injuries Sustained on Cruise Ships
There are many ways passengers can become injured on cruise ships. Some of the most common types of accidents which take place on these carriers include:
Slip and Fall Accidents – Nearly every cruise ship has swimming pools, spas, dance floors and decks which are wet and slippery. A person can easily slip and fall on a wet deck, in a narrow stairway that may be poorly lit or on a walkway that’s blocked by an obstacle left there by a negligent party. Taking photographs of the particular conditions that led to a slip and fall injury as well as photographs of the injury itself can greatly assist a plaintiff in winning a case. It’s just as important to document whether or not there were adequate warning signs in place to alert passengers of possible dangers.
Tainted Food – It is common for passengers of cruise ships to become sick from tainted food due to cruise ship employees acting negligently in the handling and storage of food items. Often times cruise ships have special terms and limitations printed on the backside of tickets which allow passengers to seek refunds in the case that they are sickened by food poisoning. However, a personal injury attorney can review a particular case to see if there are grounds for filing a negligence lawsuit.
Sexual or Physical Assault – Unfortunately, some cruise ship passengers are sexually or physically assaulted by crew members or other passengers. Because passengers feel a sense of trust and safety while on a cruise ship, they often are victims of sexual or physical assault. Another reason assault occurs on cruise ships is that often times cruise ship operators neglect to conduct background checks on crew member applicants as a way to save money. Additionally, operators of cruise ships often fail to employ an adequate security staff-to-passenger ratio and/or fail to install security cameras so they can monitor activities of crew members and others aboard the ship.
Head injuries – Because cruise ships have swimming pools and water slides on board, it is common for passengers to sustain head injuries while aboard ship due to poor design or a lack of supervision. A head injury sustained in a pool, spa or on a water slide can range from mild such as a non-serious concussion or laceration to severe wherein the brain sustains an injury. And, because cruise ships are full of hazards from above such as low hanging staircases, pipes, railings, etc, passengers sometimes strike their heads when moving about on a ship and more so when a ship makes a sudden, unexpected move due to large waves or navigational errors made by crew members.
Importance of Seeking Legal Assistance
If you’ve been injured on a cruise ship, it is important to hire the services of an experienced personal injury attorney who is familiar with the complexities of maritime law. Cruise lines are billion-dollar businesses that use many resources to defend their best interests. Cruise ship operators include fine print on all passenger tickets which state the terms under which passengers have to bring claims against them. They state when (usually within one year of the accident or incident) and where (most often Miami, Florida if it is a major cruise line such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines or Norwegian Cruise Lines) claims must be filed.
It’s important to understand that cruise lines are not always looking out for the best interests of their passengers. While taking a cruises has become an increasingly popular way to spend a holiday, the cruise ship industry on a whole often take measure to hide problems concerning poor sanitation, lack of adequate security and safety precautions, shady hiring practices and inadequate maintenance and management. While more media attention has been given to cruise lines recently to help raise public awareness to the dangers involved with cruises, the complexities of maritime law and confusing industry-wide fine print on passenger tickets still leaves many injured victims confused and without legal recourse.
If your dream cruise turned out to be somewhat of a nightmare due to an accident or incident that resulted in you becoming injured, seek help from a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will review your case to find out how the accident or incident happened, who is to blame and will take the time to explain your rights to you.