How Do I Sue a Cruise Line?

How Do I Sue a Cruise Line? This is a question I get all the time not just from cruise passengers but also from other lawyers. Why? Because most lawyers do not know how to sue a cruise line. All of the lawyers at Hickey Law Firm handle and specialize in these claims – claims of cruise passengers against cruise lines.

The answer to the question is “call a specialist.” Call a lawyer who specializes in claims by cruise passengers against cruise lines. That specialist usually will be Board Certified in Admiralty & Maritime Law by The Florida Bar and will be located in Miami, Florida.

Why are these claims so specialized? Three reasons.

First, maritime law – also known as admiralty law – applies to these claims. And maritime law is different from the law of any state. Maritime lawyers call the maritime law which applies to these claims as the General Maritime Law (GML) of the United States. Maritime law can be formed by statutes, mostly Federal, and by case law, opinions and orders of Courts.

The case law can be from the state and from the Federal Courts. Why is that? Because Article III, Section 2, Cl. 1 of the United States Constitution provides that the Federal Courts have jurisdiction over maritime claims. And a Federal statute, 28 USC Sec. 1333 (1), the Savings to Suitors clause, provides that these claims can also be filed in state court. In the words of one commentator1 on the website of the law school at Villanova University:

“Admiralty” is a complex and comprehensive body of law.  It has been defined in part as “the rules governing contract, tort, and workers’-compensation claims arising out of commerce on or over navigable water.” Admiralty, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (10th ed. 2014). As this definition implies, many seemingly routine legal claims may be subject to admiralty jurisdiction.  The admiralty jurisdiction of American courts is specifically dealt with in Article III the United States Constitution.  The Constitution grants subject matter jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime cases to the federal judiciary.  U. S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1.  Yet despite the straightforward language of the Constitution, jurisdictional issues in admiralty cases can still prove to be very complex.  For example, in the United States Code, 28 U.S.C. § 1333 states that the federal districts courts will have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the individual states, over any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.  28 U.S.C. § 1333(1) (2006).   But this section of the Code also includes the “saving to suitors” clause, allowing litigants to pursue “all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled.”  Id.  In the right circumstances, therefore, the “savings to suitors” clause allows a party to “choose either a federal or state forum by providing that state courts may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over maritime claims.”  Iwag v. Geisel Compania Maritima, S.A., 882 F.Supp. 597, 603 (S.D.Tex. 1995).  Careful research is required in order to clearly understand what claims in any cause of action are potentially Admiralty matters, and what courts may properly exercise jurisdiction over them.

How do you know if a lawyer is really a maritime specialist?

The principal way to determine if the lawyer is Board Certified in Admiralty & Maritime Law by The Florida Bar. The Florida Bar is the organization which licenses and regulates all lawyers and the practice of law in Florida. (South Florida where Hickey Law Firm and our lawyers are located is the home of the most cruise line cases in the world). The Florida Bar has a Board Certification process like the Board Certification process for your doctor. The Florida Bar on its website describes Board Certification and says: “Board certification recognizes attorneys’ special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law and professionalism and ethics in practice. Established in 1982 by the Florida Supreme Court, board certification helps consumers identify specialists in various areas of law.”

Board Certification in Admiralty & Maritime Law requires passing an all-day written examination in all areas of the maritime law. It also requires supplying The Florida Bar with a voluminous application asking among other things for names of cases and information on those cases which prove the involvement of the lawyer in maritime law. And the certification process requires references, which The Florida Bar actually contacts. The references are lawyers who know the competence of the lawyer and judges before whom the lawyer has appeared. Finally, the lawyer is required to renew Board Certification every five years.

Also look for a maritime law specialist has handled a significant number of claims against cruise lines for years, who lectures other lawyers about the maritime law, and who writes papers on maritime law.

The second reason why you need a maritime law specialist is that the business of running a cruise line and cruise ships is complicated. It takes years to understand the documentation which is generated by the cruise line. Some of that documentation is required by Federal law. And it takes years to understand the hierarchy of personnel on the cruise ship and the function of each position. The lead trial lawyer at Hickey Law Firm, John H. (Jack) Hickey, represented cruise lines for the first 17 years of his career. Our firm has handled these claims – on one side or the other – for almost 43 years. Now and for over 20 years we have represented only plaintiffs. That is, we represent only seriously injured passengers and crewmembers and the family of those killed by the negligence of the cruise line. (The cases where someone is killed are called “wrongful death” claims).

Third, most of the claims of cruise passengers are required to be filed in Federal Court. Federal Court procedures are different from the procedures of any state court. And Federal Court procedures require more work and money laid out on experts than in state court. Most of the cases of Hickey Law Firm are in Federal Court.

Cruise passenger claims against cruise lines are required to be filed in the place (“venue”) required in the ticket. The ticket terms are online. These terms are called the Passenger Ticket Contract. Even though the passenger does not sign this so called “contract,” the passenger usually indicates online that the passenger accepts the terms and conditions. The tickets provide where the suit is to be filed. Most of the largest cruise lines require that the suit be filed in Miami, Florida. Hickey Law Firm is based in Miami.

The Cruise ticket contract also requires that the cruise passenger give notice in writing of the claim within six months of the incident. The specialized lawyer in maritime law can provide that notice. That notice has to advise the cruise line that the passenger has or will make a claim, it has to be in writing, and it has to advise the cruise line of the “full particulars” of the claim. The “full particulars” includes information which will allow the cruise line to investigate the claim. That is the who, what, when, where, and how of the incident.

The Cruise Ticket Contract requires the notice in writing. But the fact is that usually the cruise line learns of the incident right when it happens or sometime on the cruise itself and investigates right then and there. The cruise line’s medical personnel are required to notify the cruise line’s onboard Safety Officer as soon as the passenger goes to the ship’s infirmary. The Safety Officer goes to the infirmary usually and interviews the person who was injured, the person with the person who was injured, and any other passengers who were witnesses. It is curious that the Safety Officer does not make notes or get statements from passengers or crewmembers whose statements and observations would not help the cruise line. The Safety Officer then goes to the scene. Oftentimes, the Safety Officer takes photos of the scene. And finally, the Safety Officer goes to the room where all of the video from all of the cameras onboard can be viewed. The Safety Officer can view all of the video footage and saves what they want if anything. It is also curious that the footage saved is only when the footage helps the cruise line. Otherwise, the video footage is not saved and cannot be retrieved later.

John H. (Jack) Hickey is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in 2 areas, (1) Admiralty & Maritime Law and (2) Civil Trial. Hickey represented cruise lines for the first 17 years of his career. For the last 23 years of his career, he has represented only plaintiffs, that is, the injured person or the family of those killed by the negligence of others. Hickey is a frequent lecturer to and author of articles for other lawyers on maritime law and claims against cruise lines. Hickey has served as Chair of The Florida Bar Admiralty Law Committee and the Admiralty Law Section of the American Association for Justice (AAJ). Hickey Law Firm is based in the Cruise Line Capital of the World, Miami, Florida. The Firm represents plaintiffs in cases all over the United States.

Call or contact Hickey Law firm in Miami for help filing a lawsuit against a cruise line. We represent cruise shop passengers around the country.