Cruise lines are some of the most profitable businesses in the world; 13 million Americans take cruises every year. Yet, they are also one of the most unregulated and untaxed businesses in the world. Fortunately, they can be held accountable in U.S. courts under the general maritime law for their negligence.
Cruise lines have a responsibility to make their premises safe, without hazardous conditions that can cause accidents and serious injury to passengers. When a cruise ship accident occurs because of poor maintenance, incompetent staff, lack of security, poor sanitation, or insufficient emergency precautions, the cruise ship owners can be held legally responsible for negligence.
At Hickey Law Firm, P.A. our experienced Miami cruise ship attorney John H. (Jack) Hickey 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.
- Cruise Ship Injury Claims
- Cruise Ship Activities Injury
- Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Injuries
- Slip and Fall Accidents
- Onboard Medical Malpractice
- Cruise Ship Safety Drill Accidents
- Crewmember and Seamen Injury
- Safety Tips for Cruising
- Contact an Experienced Cruise Ship Attorney for FREE
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. 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.
Because of these limitations, it is essential to contact an experienced Miami cruise ship attorney as soon as possible after your accident, so you can take the necessary steps to protect your rights.
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.
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)
These are just a few examples of the many types of injuries that may occur from engaging in activities offered onboard cruise ships. If you’re injured because of faulty equipment or any sort of negligence for an onboard activity, contact our experienced Miami cruise ship attorney.
Cruise lines advertise shore excursions as safe activities for passengers. When you sign up for an excursion 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 claim 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
- Zip line 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 warn 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 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 properly 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
Gangways and tender boats are also common locations where these accidents may happen.
The cruise lines market heavily and almost exclusively to citizens of the United States, with photos and videos of the ship showing first-class accommodations and amenities. 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 inadequate care and then deny responsibility for medical malpractice.
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.
An action against the cruise ship physician may not be an option. As the cruise lines know:
- The doctor inevitably does not live in the United States
- It is difficult or impossible to serve a ship doctor with a lawsuit.
- Many ship doctors do not have liability insurance and do not have sufficient assets to pay a claim
- It is difficult or impossible to file suit in the U.S. against these physicians if they live abroad and have no contacts with the U.S.
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 properly maintain its equipment.
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 terrible tragedy from happening again.
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 may 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 ship owner 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.
The recent Costa Concordia sinking was a tragic reminder of how quickly lives can change if a cruise ship runs into trouble. Miami injury attorney John H. (Jack) Hickey has five safety tips for cruise ship passengers to remember on any cruise:
- Pack two submersible flashlights: These come in handy if the power goes out. Also, take them on excursions in case things go wrong.
- Find your assigned lifeboat: Do not wait for the drill or for someone to tell you; ask. Then show your family and cabin mates where it is.
- Find your muster station: This is the place where you and your cabin mates are supposed to go in case of an emergency. Again, do not wait for the drill or for someone to tell you. Then show your family and cabin mates where it is.
- Locate the life vests: Find the life vests in your cabin and in other locations on the ship Show all your cabin mates where they are too.
- Recognize the ship’s evacuation signal: The standard alert is seven short horn blasts followed by one long one.
Learn More About Cruise Ship Injury Claims In Our Blog!
Many lawyers say that they represent people who have been injured or sexually assaulted or whose family member has died related to a cruise. But do your research. Ask these questions:
Have you represented cruise lines in the past and if so for how long? (I represented cruise lines for 17 years before I changed sides and starting representing passengers and crew members against the cruise lines).
Are you Board Certified as an Admiralty & Maritime Lawyer by The Florida Bar? (This is the law which applies to all cruise ship cases. This is a specialized area of the law and most lawyers do not have expertise in it. John H. (Jack) Hickey is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Admiralty & Maritime Law, was Chair of the Admiralty Law Committee of The Florida Bar, was Chair of the Admiralty Section of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), and lectures frequently on maritime law and cruise ship accidents).
Do you have experience trying cases and what is that? (John H. (Jack) Hickey has tried more than 75 civil cases and is so experienced at it that he is Board Certified as a Civil Trial Lawyer by The Florida Bar, Board Certified as a Trial Lawyer by the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA), and is an Advocate Member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA)).
Are you a leader among lawyers so that lawyers, judges, and cruise line representatives know who you are? (John H. (Jack) Hickey is a Past President of the Dade County Bar Association, the largest voluntary bar association in Florida, is on the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar, is the Vice Chair of the Motor Vehicle, Premises Liability Section of AAJ, the largest section of the largest organization of plaintiffs’ lawyers in the United States. See his full biography at www.hickeylawfirm.com/bio).
What kind of results do you get? (In a few short years, we have recovered in verdicts and settlements in excess of $100 Million. Recently, the appellate court affirmed our verdict of $4.5 Million where we represented an 89 year old woman who was involved in a car crash and who suffered multiple orthopedic injuries none of which required surgery and a brain injury which did require a craniectomy to relieve pressure of a brain bleed. The doctors of our client wrote in their notes that she had “fully recuperated” from the injuries. She died 4 ½ years after the crash of multiple myeloma completely unrelated to the crash. She died before the trial unexpectedly and there was no deposition of her. There was only photos, her medical records and doctors, and her daughter and granddaughter to testify about her. The verdict of $4.5 Million was only pain and suffering, and equals $1 Million a year for each year that she lived. That is a record breaking verdict for these injuries.