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Cruise Ship Injuries: Who Is Liable?


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 onboard ships.

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 notice-requirement clause.

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.

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