As spring season kicks in and gives way to summer, thousands of Floridians will likely take a cruise as their chosen vacation. Lately the news has been abound with cruise ship news ranging from norovirus outbreaks, engine failure, personal injury onboard and ashore, and disasters such as the sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012. Unfortunately, incidents at sea happen and the legal recourse is often complicated, even for experienced lawyers. This is not intended as a thorough resource for all possible incidents, but rather a general overview of basic information every passenger should know.
Forum Selection and Claim Limitations
Any legal action you wish to bring against your cruise line will likely have to be brought within a short amount of time; commonly six (6) months and litigated in a specific state. All cruise contracts contain a “forum selection clause” that directs where all lawsuits must be filed against the cruise line; typically Miami. How does the passenger know this? It’s buried within the pages of the often over-looked boarding contract. The United States Supreme Court upheld these clauses in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1991) reasoning that a cruise line serves passengers all over the world and subjecting to litigation in every possible court would be burdensome, versus the burden on the passenger who chose to take the cruise and signed the contract agreeing. Rule to remember – Review your contract and be warned that you will not likely be able to litigation in a court closet to you.
Most important are the time limitations to file a claim. The majority of mainstream cruise lines set a window of six (6) months to bring a claim for injuries against the cruise line. These limits vary from cruise line to cruise line and are contained within the contract. If you file outside of the time limit, your claim will be barred. Rule to remember – Consult an attorney as soon as you return to port who can determine if you have a viable claim.
Know Your Ports of Call and Excursions
Personal injuries and crimes occurring on foreign soil, whether or not part of a sanctioned cruise tour present complex problems for obvious reasons; foreign law, cruise line involvement, tour promoter, and foreign officials.
First, visit www.travel.state.gov for the latest travel advisories on the destinations you are going. The Bahamas are a popular stop for cruises but crime in Nassau and New Providence Island is soaring. If you are a victim of crime on foreign soil, immediately notify the U.S. Embassy, work with local authorities as best you can, and report the incident to your cruise ship.
Second, travel with a sanctioned tour booked through the cruise. If you are traveling to a foreign country, are unsure of your surroundings, unfamiliar with the language and customs, it is best to travel with an excursion you selected through the cruise line. Unfortunately, injuries do occur during shore excursions and your legal remedies are extraordinarily limited if you were on an independent tour. Essentially, you’re left to your own devices in finding a local lawyer and navigating a foreign legal system. For injuries occurring on cruise-sanctioned excursions, most cruise lines waiver themselves out of liability for such incidents, however injured persons will have access to whom all the tour operators were, whom to sue, and as a matter of course the cruise line is usually sued anyway. Rule to remember – Excursion injuries resulting from negligence are already complex, limit the headaches by working with cruise sanctioned companies.
Injuries Occurring Onboard
Shore-based negligence law applies onboard cruise ships, regardless of their presence in international waters, foreign ports, or even if the cruise flies under a foreign flag. Cruises leaving from U.S. ports are extended the protection of federal maritime law. In short, cruise lines owe a duty of care to passengers; however it is nuanced. The duty is reasonable care under the circumstances; meaning what is reasonable care is often the same as onshore but to the extent to which the circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different from those encountered in daily life onshore. For example, a wet deck left unattended is an often an inherent part of maritime travel and the ship owner may not be found to have breached any duty. Rule to remember – Be aware of your surroundings and remember you’re on a seagoing vessel subject to various hazards.
An important note about the onboard doctor. The doctor is NOT an employee of the cruise line! Medical malpractice actions cannot be brought against the cruise line because the physician is an independent contractor. The Florida Supreme Court affirmatively set out in Carnival Corp. v. Carlisle, 953 So. 2d 461 (Fla. 2007) that a cruise line is not vicariously liable for the medical malpractice of a shipboard doctor committed on a passenger. Any alleged malpractice would thus have to brought against the doctor in a personal capacity under the laws of the jurisdiction who licensed the physician; usually foreign.
While there is much more that can be discussed, these are a few of the main highlights to keep in mind before cruising. Should you suffer one of these outlined pitfalls while aboard a cruiseline, please contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA when you return ashore. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can advise you of your rights if you are the misfortunate victim of negligence. Call 727-451-6900
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765