The Athens Convention and Shameful Caps on Damages

Personal Injury, Motor Vehicle, Cruise Ship, Recreational Boating, and Jet Ski Accident Attorneys Serving Florida.

Miami Maritime Lawyer John H. (Jack) Hickey Speaks Out

Miami and Fort Lauderdale maritime lawyer John H. (Jack) Hickey represents passengers who were injured in cruise ship accidents, and he is very familiar with the Athens Convention, which governs how much cruise ship passengers can recover for injuries and damages in the event of a cruise ship accident. Hickey has this to say about the Athens Convention:

Shame on the parliaments of all of the countries that have adopted the Athens Convention. The Convention imposes across the board damage caps for claims brought by passengers against cruise lines. What does the passenger get in return? Nothing. That is why the Athens Convention really should be called the Cruise Line Relief Act.

Read the Athens Convention here: Consolidated Text of the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea

Damage caps serve only to ensure that the claims will be settled (if at all) for amounts well under the cap. Why would the cruise line subject to the cap offer in settlement anything even close to the cap if the worst they can do at a trial is to be liable for the damages under the cap? They would rather settle for peanuts or go to the trial or final hearing because there is no risk of any significant loss and any loss above the cap.

That means that:

  1. The cruise line does not have to take full responsibility for its actions and provide compensation for the full extent of the losses and harms to the passenger; and
  2. Significant claims for either economic losses (medical expenses and/or lost wages in the past and in the future) or non-economic losses (pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of ability to enjoy life, scarring, disfigurement and disability) go uncompensated.

What is the result? The result is that the passenger – not the cruise line – has to absorb the losses. That also means that you and I pay for it. If the injured passenger receives insufficient compensation for an injury where, for example, the passenger is unable to work and needs public assistance or medical care, you and I as taxpayers are paying for the losses, not the cruise lines (whether the public assistance is Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability or even food stamps, or if the passenger goes to the emergency room of your local public hospital instead of to a doctor). That does not make sense.

The result also is that the cruise line is not made to take full responsibility for causing – if it did – the non-economic losses, including pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of ability to enjoy life, scarring, disfigurement and disability. Often, these can be permanent. If you do not have chronic pain, ask someone who does. Ask that person how chronic pain affects his or her every waking minute, his or her sleep, his or her activities of daily living, relationships, ability to enjoy being in this world, daily happiness and ability to be himself or herself. That person will tell you all about it.

The Athens Convention is the Cruise Line Relief Act. Shame on all of the parliaments and the European Union, which have shown more loyalty to the lobbyists and to the executives of the cruise lines than to their own people. How many expensive dinners, free cruises, promises or worse bought this loyalty? We need to demand that our representatives serve our needs, not the needs of some executives or lobbyists. Demand that your parliament or government never adopts – or repeals if it is in effect– the Athens Convention.

What is the Settlement Cap Under the Athens Convention?

In some countries, the Athens Convention caps damages that can be sought following personal injury, death, or damage to a cruise ship passenger’s luggage or vehicle.
Under this act, victims of injury are entitled to up to SDR 250,000 with a maximum of SDR 400,000 per passenger for an injury that occurs due to a “shipping incident.”
Cabin luggage may be capped at SDR 2,250, with “other luggage” capped at SDR 3,375. Vehicle damage is capped at SDR 12,700 per vehicle.

It is important to remember that, while cruise ships may incorporate language from the Athens Convention into their contracts, the United States is not a signatory of this convention and these caps are not honored in U.S. courts.

Where is the Athens Convention Applicable?

The Athens Convention is applicable when a contract of carriage is made in a country that is party to the Convention. It applies to those same countries when they serve as the departure point or destination of a cruise.

Parties to the Athens Convention include several South American, European, Asian, and African nations. The United States is not a signatory of the Athens Convention. U.S. Courts do not honor its limitations.

How can Acts Like the Athens Convention be Repealed?

The Athens Convention can be repealed by a majority vote of the countries that are signatories. Individual countries can opt-out as well.

The United States is not a party to the Convention and has no role in repealing it.

Is There Any Way to Undermine the Athens Convention in Court?

Undermining the Athens Convention may be possible in a foreign court. The United States is not a party to the Athens Convention and our courts are not bound by its regulations, caps, or language.

How Can I Prepare to File a Case That Falls Under the Athens Convention?

The Athens Convention is not a consideration when filing a cruise ship injury claim in the United States, but several other regulations and laws in our country can complicate a successful maritime injury claim. The best way to prepare for one of these cases is by contacting an experienced cruise ship attorney who has both the background and the resources to help you win your claim.