Cruise Ship Litigation

Modern cruise vessels are best viewed as floating hotels that transport their guests from exotic port to exotic port where the passengers stay a few hours for shopping, snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing and touring. The cruise industry is growing rapidly with close to 7 million cruise passengers per year world wide. Modern cruising can be a wonderful experience provided that you or a loved are not involved in an accident or incident. Cruising is now the apex of modern leisure travel, however, the laws that govern the cruise lines and accidents and injuries occurring on cruise ships are governed by ancient legal doctrines which favor ship owners over passengers and severely limit your rights and remedies.

The unpleasant reality is that the cruise vessel’s responsibilities and your rights as an injured passenger are not governed by modern consumer oriented common and statutory law, but by 19th century legal principals which were formed to insulate the maritime industry from the legitimate claims of passengers. Although recent years have seen the expansion of travel consumers’ rights and remedies in actions against airlines, domestic hotels and tour operators, there has been little, if any, change in the passengers’ rights and remedies in actions against cruise lines. Cruise passengers and employees are at a distinct disadvantage in prosecuting their claims.

There are many special laws that apply just to cruise ships. Most cruise lines insert special provisions into their passenger tickets that require that the injured party file suit within one year or loose any chance of recovery. The normal statute of limitations for admiralty and maritime matters is three years. Cruise lines not only limit the amount of time you have to file a claim, they also designate the only location where they can be sued. Most of the major cruise lines designate Miami, Florida as the only location where they can be sued. Moreover, the cruise lines are now requiring that passengers file claims within one year in Federal Court in Miami-Dade county, further limiting the forum of suite and making it even more difficult to find an attorney that is licensed to practice in Federal Court.

Most cruise ships are registered in a foreign country and flies a foreign flag. The law of the country of registration of the vessel can potentially apply to events on cruise ships and could potentially be more favorable to the claimant than United States law. This can create opportunities for experienced admiralty attorneys and obstacles for those attorneys who are unfamiliar with maritime law. Only skilled practitioners can determine if the laws of the state of Florida, the laws of the United States, the laws of the flag country or international treaties apply to many cruise ship accidents.

The most disturbing aspect of cruise claims is what happens when a passenger is sick or injured and needs the care of the ships medical “professionals.” There are no uniform standards for medical care professionals or for the nature and quality of the medical equipment in the infirmary and/or operating room. As noted in Consumer Reports Travel Letter “Many passengers would be surprised to discover that there are no international standards for medical care on passenger cruise ships–not even one requiring that a physician be on board. Although most cruise ships generally do carry doctors, many of them are not US-trained or licensed to practice medicine in the States… No international agency regulates the infirmary facilities or equipment, or requires a standard of training for cruise-ship doctors… Bradley Feuer, DO, surveyed the medical facilities and staff qualifications of 11 cruise lines in 1996… Among the findings: 27% of nurses and doctors were not certified in advanced cardiac life support; 54% of doctors and 72% of nurses were not certified in advanced trauma life support. Nearly half the doctors–45%–weren’t board certified in their areas of practice.”

People who work aboard cruise ships (Seamen) are not covered by any type of Workers Compensation statutes like those that exist for land-based workers, however, the Courts and Congress have developed a strong tradition of legal protection to seamen who become sick or injured during their employment aboard vessels. A seaman is entitled to damages for the unseaworthiness of a vessel, maintenance and cure, and Jones Act damages. The cruise lines often send seamen back to their native countries where it is difficult for them to get good medical care and to pursue actions against the cruise lines.

The attorney representing you in an accident that occurred on the water needs to know more than how to steer a boat or fish. Knowledge of the Nautical Rules of the Road is essential in all accidents and incidents occurring on cruise ships. An attorney must be proficient in admiralty and maritime law to properly apply the facts of your case to these specialized laws. Maintenance and Cure, the Jones Act, and the unseaworthiness doctrine are laws and legal concepts that are very specialized and have been developed over the long tradition of maritime commerce. Most attorneys are not experienced with these laws designed to protect the cruise lines. Because this law is based somewhat on tradition and has many issues of international and Federal Law, only skilled Admiralty attorneys fully understand these complex issues.

If you have an accident on the water, or you are a seamen that has been injured or is sick then you need to contact us.