Florida is known for many things, including the many cruise ships that
dock at ports around the state. With so many cruises arriving and departing,
it’s not surprising that cruise ship injuries do occur. When accidents
happen on land, injured victims are able to pursue compensation under
tort law, but the process isn’t so simple for injuries at sea. Below,
we’ll explain what you should know about liability when it comes to
accidents onboard a cruise ship.
What Laws Govern Cruise Ships?
Cruise lines, like ferries, commercial flights, and busses, are common
carriers, which means that they are held to a higher standard of care
than an average person would be. This is known as common carrier law.
It is of the utmost importance that the crew and operator of cruise ships
exercise all reasonable care to prevent injuries and operate in accordance
to maritime law. Maritime law is the regulations that govern what happens
If you’re injured onboard a ship, it is likely that you won’t
be working with traditional personal injury laws, but rather maritime
law. Under maritime law, a cruise line can be held liable for injuries
only if the operator knew or should have known that there was a dangerous
condition on board. Injured persons have 3 years under the maritime law
statute of limitations to file their claim, but that time may be shortened
by the carrier’s contract, which a customer must agree to when purchasing a ticket.
The Fine Print: Cruise Operator Contracts
When you purchase a ticket, you most likely agreed to the terms and conditions
imposed by the cruise operator. Whether you read them before clicking
“I Agree” doesn’t matter—these terms still apply
to your injury case. The clauses included in the terms and conditions
may include a limited liability waiver, forum-selection clause, and a
A limited liability waiver will release the company from liability for
certain damages, such as emotional distress. A forum-selection clause
indicates which state a lawsuit against the cruise operator may be filed
in. Because many cruise lines are headquartered in Florida, it is common
for this state to be the forum allowed by the terms, even if it’s
inconvenient to victims living in other states. A notice-requirement clause
outlines the time period in which an injured passenger must notify the
cruise operator of damages and file a claim. This period can range from
a few days to 12 months so it’s important to read these terms carefully
before purchasing tickets.
Determining Negligence in a Cruise Ship Accident
Cruise operators are not strictly liable for passenger injuries, which
means that injured passengers cannot assume that the operator will always
be found liable for their injuries. Instead, injured plaintiffs must prove
that their injuries were caused by negligence or willful actions on the
part of the cruise operator. Under maritime law, negligence is determined
by whether a reasonably careful ship operator knows or should have known
about the dangerous condition which led to an injury.
For instance, one could argue that a cruise company was negligent if they
didn’t properly maintain and replace rusted rails, which then gave
away and let a passenger fall from the deck. You could not argue, however,
that performing sudden maneuvers to avoid a dangerous tsunami caused by
an earthquake was negligent, even if passengers were injured as a result.
This is because the cruise operator could not be reasonably expected to
predict and avoid a tsunami, the way you could reasonably expect them
to understand that a rusted railing was a hazard to passengers.
An exception to the above negligence doctrine is when injuries are caused
by a crewmember’s negligence or when an injury occurs while the
passengers are ashore in a port of call. Even if a reasonably careful
cruise operator couldn’t have predicted an injury, they still may
be held liable for the actions of a crew member. This doesn’t apply
to the ship’s medical personnel though, as long as they are considered
independent contractors and not employees of the cruise line, and are
properly licensed and trained.
A cruise ship injury can not only ruin a vacation, but can also have lasting
effects on the rest of your life, including a lengthy recovery and emotional
trauma. If you or a loved one has been injured while on a cruise, don’t
hesitate to contact our experienced Tampa Bay
personal injury attorney at the Paulsen Law Group. Our team will fight for your rights.
Discuss your case today by scheduling a free consultation.
Contact our offices by calling (727) 270-8260.