Accidents and injuries occur anywhere and anytime which include cruise ships and other common carriers. While injuries occurred on the land, they can be settled through the tort law, the injury claims due to cruise ship accidents are handled in a different way. A cruise ship operator must practice reasonable precautions for the safety of its passengers, as stipulated in the maritime law, which is also known as admiralty law, and will be held responsible for the passenger injuries as a result of negligence or willful actions, regardless of the fault or intent.
An injured cruise ship usually file claims for the damages in the state as shown at the back of the ticket, regardless of the place of the accident or the passenger’s home residence. The injured passengers can sue the operators of the cruise ship for the injuries caused by the employees, even though courts vary on this issue.
This article comprises the basics of cruise ship accidents and how the passengers may file for claims for the injuries. You can read Travel and Aviation Accidents for related-information.
Common Carriers and Maritime Law
Common carrier refers to an individual or company that transports passengers or good on their regular routes at set fare rates, and this includes cruise ships, as well as airplanes, ferries, trains, and buses. Common carrier should use the highest level of care to transport its passengers and goods safely to their destinations. However, unlike the legal theory of strict liability where the error does not need to be proven, the passengers of common carriers must show that there is negligence or the intention on behalf of the carrier, as stipulated by 47 U.S.C. § 206.
Most of the cruise ships that serve US customers are unregistered in USA but in countries like Bahamas or Panama, where the safety and labor laws are not very strict. Hence, maritime law is used. Under the maritime law, carriers are held responsible for cruise ship accidents only when it can be proven that the operator of the ship knew or should have known the hazardous condition. US District Judge Paul C. Huck published the following concept in 2006: “There must be some failure to exercise due care before liability may be imposed…the question becomes whether the defendant created an unsafe or foreseeable hazardous condition.”
The Cruise Ship Ticket as Legal Contract
In terms of the liability of the operator of the ship, and where lawsuits can be filed, one must know and understand what is stipulated at the back of the ticket. When you buy the ticket and boarding the ship, you actually agree to the terms and conditions in it. Then you may see a restricted liability waiver like a clause releasing the operator from liability for emotional distress, from a forum-selection clause, and a notice-requirement clause.
The forum-selection or venue clause shows the state where the lawsuit can be filed, basically in Florida, where the main cruise lines are headquartered, although the ship is registered in other country. In spite of its obvious difficulty to plaintiffs living in some parts of the country, most of the courts support these clauses are reasonable.
The notice-requirement clause compels the injured passenger to file a lawsuit for damages during the time stated in the contract. The Maritime law permits a three-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. The notice-requirement clause may also reduce the window to twelve months for the physical injuries, and shorter for the non-physical injuries which is just days right after the accident.
This shows that it is a good concept to read the back of your ticket before boarding.
Cruise Ship Accidents: Determining Negligence
Operators of the cruise ship are not strictly responsible for injuries of the passengers and must be found to have been negligent or acting with intent. To determine negligence, under the maritime law, mainly depends on whether a “reasonably careful ship operator” would not have known regarding the injury that resulted from the accident. The law permits for the understanding what is impossible for even the most careful operator of the ship to foresee each hazardous condition.
For instance, a reasonable operator of the ship should have known there is a rusted and cracked railings before the passenger was thrown into the water after leaning on the rail. However, the same operator may not have predicted the earthquake-triggered tsunami that made the captain to do an emergency maneuver that caused minor injuries to the passengers and crews as a consequence of the rough conditions.
The plaintiff should find witnesses, employ an expert witness or introduce certain kinds of evidence that prove the negligence of the operator. There are times when proving negligence is easier and simpler as proving the noncompliance with the given regulations.
Injuries Caused by Cruise Ship Employees
When the passengers suffer from a cruise ship accident or injury sustained from the negligence of a crew member, or willful intent, although it is a “reasonably careful ship operator” could not have foreseen the employees’ actions, most of the courts hold the operators responsible for the acts. This regulation is used when the crew and passengers are onshore during a port of call. The exemption lies when the doctor of the ship and related healthcare providers, as long as they are categorized as independent contractors and not hired as employees of the cruise line, who are properly licensed and trained.
Cruise ship accidents are uncommon but may occur from time to time.