Cruise lines are some of the most profitable businesses in the world and 13 million Americans take cruises every year. Yet, they are also one of the most unregulated and untaxed companies in the world. Passengers or crew members that are injured as a result of the negligence, carelessness or stupidity of the cruise lines have options. Fortunately, cruise lines can be held accountable in U.S. courts under the general maritime law for their negligence. They have a responsibility to make their premises safe, without hazardous conditions that can cause accidents and serious injury to passengers.
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Cruise ship owners can be held legally responsible for negligence when a cruise ship accident happens because of insufficient emergency precautions, poor maintenance, lack of security, poor sanitation, or incompetent staff. At Hickey Law Firm, P.A. our team of trial lawyers is headed by Lead Trial Lawyer, John H. (Jack) Hickey. Jack has the experience and resources you need to fight for the compensation you deserve.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a cruise ship accident, call us today at (305) 371-8000 to schedule a free case evaluation.
John H. (Jack) Hickey: WAS A LAWYER FOR THE CRUISE LINES. NOW A LAWYER FOR YOU®
There are many moving parts and details when it comes to cruise ship accidents and pursuing compensation for physical, mental, and financial damages including:
- Cruise Ship Injury Claims
- How to Notify Cruise Line of an Injury
- Most Common Dangers on a Cruise Ship
- Cruise Ship Activities Injury
- Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Injuries
- Slip and Fall Accidents
- Onboard Medical Malpractice
- Cruise Ship Safety Drill Accidents
- Cruise Ship Fire Injuries
- Crewmember and Seamen Injury
- Recoverable Damages in a Cruise Ship Accident Claim
- Contact an Experienced Cruise Ship Accident Attorney for a FREE Consultation
Cruise Ship Injury Claims
The cruise ship industry has restricted when and where you can file an injury claim. These restrictions appear in the fine print of your ticket, known as the “Passenger Ticket Contract,” but rarely are all of the terms actually listed on the ticket and instead can be found on the cruise line website. These terms and conditions are usually contained in 14-18 pages of legal gobbledygook, which have been written over time by maritime lawyers.
Cruise ship injury claims must establish that General Maritime Law applies to the incident, whether the standard of care or “reasonable care under the circumstances” was given, and if the cruise line provided reasonable communication to cruise passengers listed in the Passenger Ticket Contract such as using headers and bolded font.
The four main tenets of Passenger Ticket Contracts and cruise ship injury claims include:
- Identifying the correct “venue” such as the Federal Court in Miami, Florida.
- Giving timely notice, typically within six months of the incident.
- Recognizing the Statute of Limitations for your cruise ship injury claim, which is often one year from the date of the incident, but some extensions may apply in extenuating circumstances.
- Establishing if the Athens Convention applies, which is a treaty typically referenced in Passenger Ticket Contracts that provides a cap on damages. (The Athens Convention does not apply to any voyage that involves a U.S. port.)
Cruise passengers have 180 days after an accident to provide notice of their claim to the cruise line. The cruise passenger is required to file suit within one year after the accident, but in the venue (location) indicated in the Passenger Ticket Contract. For most of the major cruise lines, that place is the Federal Court in Miami, Florida, but some may need to be filed in Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando, Florida, Los Angeles, California or Seattle, Washington. For a full list of where you have to file suit for each of the cruise lines and the names of the ships in service for those cruise line, please click here.
Learn More About Cruise Ship Injury Claims In Our Blog!
How to Notify a Cruise Line of an Injury
Filing your cruise ship injury claim must begin as soon as possible to preserve your claim. Report the incident immediately to the security officer or other personnel in the area. After you provide a statement, ask for a copy right then and there. If you don’t receive a copy right away, they will not give you one. Seek medical treatment at the ship’s infirmary and report the accident if you have injuries. In cases of sexual assault or rape, you need to report the crime to the FBI and do not rely on the cruise line to do so for you. Once the ship has docked, seek additional medical treatment if needed.
It’s crucial that you begin documenting and preserving the evidence immediately. The cruise line will not protect or provide evidence. Cruise lines are not obligated to provide photographs. Accordingly, you need to take pictures or have someone take good digital images of the area. Take photos of the entire scene of the accident if you can, as well as your injuries. Collect the names and contact information for all witnesses, whether cruise ship personnel or other passengers.
You preserve your claim only by providing the 6-month notice and filing suit within one year. Filling out an accident report and writing letters to the cruise line do not preserve your claim. You have to provide the cruise line with a written notice with a complete description of the incident within the period listed on the Passenger Ticket Contract, which is typically six months (180 days). However, some claims regarding property damage may limit this notice period to just 30 days.
You will need to file your cruise ship accident lawsuit within one year or risk losing your claim due to the statute of limitations. Our attorneys have a proven success record for cruise ship accident case results and can help you navigate the claims process.
Most Common Dangers on a Cruise Ship
Cruise Ship Activities Injury
Cruises provide a wide range of activities onboard the ship itself. Cruise ships have thousands of rooms, dozens of floors, shopping centers, theaters, pools, restaurants, and more. Cruise lines are obligated to properly maintain all of these public areas to keep passengers safe from harm.
Passengers can potentially suffer an injury in many different ways onboard a cruise ship, including:
- Food poisoning
- Allergic reaction requests and warnings ignored by a staff member
- Over-service of alcohol
- Swimming pool accidents
- Rock climbing walls
- Unsecured objects
- Escalator and elevator accidents
- Legionnaires' Disease (a medical condition caused by bacteria that is commonly spread through swimming pools and hot tubs)
Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Injuries
Cruise lines advertise shore excursions as safe activities for passengers. When you sign up for a tour or activity that is promoted, advertised, organized, and sanctioned by the cruise line, you trust that all possible precautions will be taken to protect you from injury or harm.
Cruise ship shore excursion accident cases can involve a number of different at-fault parties. Unfortunately, holding these parties accountable is often a complicated process. The cruise line may claim that the excursion operator is an "independent contractor" over whom they have no control. The tour operator may argue that the courts in the United States have no jurisdiction over them or that the courts here are not the proper forum.
Many excursion contracts contain clauses that attempt to limit or waive the liability of the cruise line or the excursion operator. Most of these clauses are not enforceable, but the law is complex in this area.
Some examples of common shore excursion accidents that can lead to serious injury include:
- Tender boat accidents
- Transport vehicle accidents
- Hiking and climbing accidents
- Diving and snorkeling accidents
- Parasailing accidents
- Zipline accidents
In addition to shore excursion liability, cruise lines are responsible for warning passengers about any dangerous areas in a port of call that guests may reasonably be expected to visit. If the cruise line fails to inform passengers of possible dangers in a port of call, and a passenger suffers an injury in an accident or assault of any kind, the cruise line may be held accountable for these damages. Families of individuals who were wrongfully killed during a shore excursion may also have the right to pursue compensation from the cruise line or tour operator.
Slip and Fall Accidents on Cruise Ships
Slip and fall accidents are the number one cause of injury on cruise ships. The cruise lines have a duty to exercise reasonable care, and cruise passengers expect that the ship's premises and amenities will be appropriately maintained for their safe use. However, wet, slippery decks, a limited number of lifeguards, and several other risk factors make cruise ships uniquely prone to slip and fall and other premises liability accidents.
The majority of slip and fall accidents on cruise ships occur on the Lido or Pool Deck. Many of the decks of the modern cruise ship have resin flooring manufactured by any one of three or four companies. This resin material is less prone to cracking and separating when the steel deck underneath expands or contracts. However, a small amount of water can make this resin material slick and dangerous.
Besides the dangers of poorly maintained Lido Decks, slip and fall accidents also occur because of:
- Inadequate lighting.
- Failure to repair or replace stair railings.
- Failure to repair worn-down non-skid deck surfaces.
- Cruise ship swaying and movements.
Gangways and tender boats are also common locations where these accidents may happen. Some injuries may also be caused by design and construction defects on the ship.
Onboard Medical Malpractice
Cruise lines are expected and required to provide medical care to passengers. This is due in part to the average age of cruise ship passengers being 50 and older and that most “cruisers” are U.S. citizens and expect medical care to be at the same standard. Cruise ships are isolated, limiting your medical care options to the onboard medical personnel and infirmary. Under Maritime Law, the cruise ship is obligated to re-route its course in order to provide medical care to a sick or injured crew member or passenger if the ship is unable to provide the standard of care onboard.
Cruise ships sail to countries and island nations who have limited and sometimes substandard medical care. Advertising that a cruise ship has a competent medical facility, and then failing to provide the standard of care that patients expect is an egregious form of negligence and fraud. With rare exceptions, the majority of the medical staff is not licensed in the United States, and they are provided only with basic equipment.
When a passenger becomes sick or injured, a cruise ship’s medical staff is often not equipped to treat the patient's condition—either because of inadequate training or lack of the tools necessary to make a proper diagnosis. Despite advertising that the ship has a medical facility onboard, cruise lines provide insufficient care and then deny responsibility for medical malpractice.
Some of the most common instances of onboard medical malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis of illness or injury
- Failure to provide the appropriate follow-up instructions
- Failure to treat life-threatening conditions including heart attack or stroke with urgency, leading to brain damage, disability, even death
- Prescription for the wrong medication(s)
- Failing to refer the sick or injured passenger to seek treatment at a port with standard or first-class medical facilities
What Would it Take to Win a Maritime Cruise Medical Malpractice Case?
If a passenger is seriously injured due to medical negligence on a cruise ship, an action against the cruise line is possible but a challenge under the current state of the law. That is why a specialist in the area is not just a luxury but a necessity. Maritime cruise medical malpractice cases are among the most complicated in this area of law. The best way to pursue your claim is to contact an attorney with intimate knowledge of cruise ship medical malpractice such as our John H. (Jack) Hickey. He’s been on both sides of these claims having been an attorney for cruise lines and now works to protect and fight on behalf for injured victims of cruise line negligence.
Holding the cruise line accountable for the negligence of medical personnel is difficult as many courts are split on the issue. Some claim, as in Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda, that the owner of the cruise ship can’t be held responsible for onboard medical malpractice or negligence because its primary business is not providing medical and the cruise line is offering the convenience of onboard medical care. However, this case was decided on the basis that passengers have alternatives to medical care while onboard, which is far from the truth. Taking action against the treating physician may also be difficult as the doctor often lives and practices outside of the United States and does not have liability insurance.
Cruise ship owners are responsible for adequately vetting their medical staff, and the line between employee and independent contractor is further blurred when a cruise ship makes medical personnel wear the same uniform as employees and officers. Many cruise ships also require yearly training and receive revenue from the medical center. When cruise lines list their physicians as independent contractors, you may be able to pursue a claim based on negligent hiring and retention because Maritime Law requires cruise lines hire medical staff who are qualified and competent in providing the accepted standard of care.
Cruise Ship Safety Drill Accidents
Cruise lines are responsible for the safety of their own workers, as well as passengers onboard the ships. Safety drills help to minimize the risk of injuries during emergencies, but the simulations can be equally as dangerous. Although passengers who cruise frequently know that there is a safety drill at the beginning of their journey, other safety drills that take place on the ship only involve cruise employees.
Cruise operators are responsible for making sure that each piece of equipment is up to code to ensure the safety of their employees. A thorough investigation must be made into whether cruise line negligence is responsible for the workers' injuries and deaths. A cruise line might be liable for failing to properly train its employees, for purchasing defective equipment or failing to maintain its equipment properly.
Through civil litigation, victims and family members can receive compensation for injuries, loss, trauma, medical bills and pain and suffering. It could also result in new safety standards to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again.
Cruise Ship Fire Injuries
A fire aboard a cruise ship can lead to severe trauma and personal injury. An engine fire may cause a cruise ship to list, or tilt, which may also cause the boat to take on water or even sink. Engine malfunctions have also left passengers stranded at sea aboard an uncontrollable ship. It can also cause the boat to lose power to the sewage systems and the air conditioning. Food may even become infected with bacteria if the engines affect the food storage systems.
An engine room fire poses several risks to passengers and crewmembers alike. When a ship loses power, it creates the potential for:
- Mass chaos
An engine fire is a significant issue and can cause problems with the large diesel power systems which run the ship. This is serious because the engines which turn the propellers also furnish electricity for the onboard electrical systems, including electricity to run the vacuum toilet systems.
Exposure to sewage is a risk to your health. There are numerous infections and diseases associated with and caused by exposure to sewage water, including:
- Upper respiratory infections
- Hepatitis A
- Typhoid fever
- Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from mosquitoes which are attracted to water polluted with sewage.
Crewmember and Seamen Injury
Crewmembers that are considered "seamen" under Admiralty and Maritime Law have unique rights and benefits if they are injured while on duty. Under the Jones Act, seamen can sue their employer for the existence of a dangerous condition onboard a ship, even if the owner was previously unaware of the hazard. However, the Jones Act is a complex piece of legislation that can be difficult to navigate without the help of an experienced maritime attorney.
If an accident occurs and a seaman is injured on the job, they have a right to benefits known as "maintenance and cure," which are intended to cover:
- Daily living expenses (food and lodging).
- Prompt and adequate medical care for any of the injuries suffered in the service of the ship.
These benefits are available to all crewmembers who meet the "seaman" designation, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. Even if the accident took place off of the vessel, the seaman might still be eligible for maintenance and cure benefits if they were on a job that is in service of the ship, while the incident occurred.
The Jones Act
Apart from maintenance and cure, seamen are also potentially entitled to damages for their injuries through the Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920). This Act was established to protect the rights of crewmembers who are exposed to the perils of the sea.
Under the Jones Act, the crewmember has to show that the cruise line was negligent. However, there is a relaxed standard for showing that the negligence caused the accident or the injuries. The case law provides that the ship will be liable for causing the accident if the negligence even in the slightest degree caused the accident.
The shipowner may also be liable for the unseaworthiness of the ship. An unseaworthy vessel or part of the vessel is where that part is not fit for the purpose for which it was intended. It must be a safe place to work and live. Examples of unseaworthiness may include:
- Inadequate crew
- Defective ship equipment
- Slippery or oily decks
- Worn ladders and stairs
- Lack of proper safety gear
- Unsafe work practices
If you are not legally considered a seaman, you may still have rights to compensation under The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.
Recoverable Damages in a Cruise Ship Accident Claim
Cruise ship owners and operators owe passengers a duty of care. It is the responsibility of the cruise line to ensure that no unreasonable risks are present on a vessel that can cause injury to a passenger. When these responsibilities are not met, and the cruise line or operators have been determined to be negligent, we can fight for you.
If you’ve been injured or experienced severe health issues from your time on a cruise ship, we may be able to pursue compensation for:
- Current and future medical costs
- Current and future rehabilitation costs
- Loss of wages (including future wages)
- Inhibited earning capacity
- Wrongful death claims
- Pain and suffering
Because every case is unique, and the circumstances regarding your injuries may be different from those of another case, the value of your claim cannot be determined until a thorough examination is conducted by our knowledgeable attorneys.
Contact an Experienced Cruise Ship Accident Attorney for a FREE Consultation
If you or a family member was injured while on a cruise, our Miami injury attorneys have the experience and resources you need to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Please Contact Hickey Law Firm, P.A. today for a FREE consultation with our Miami cruise ship attorney at (305) 371-8000.