The question of who is responsible for a sexual assault can be very difficult when the assault takes place on a commercial cruise line in international waters. There are often many issues that could come into play like: what jurisdiction’s law has supremacy on the issue?; Is the cruise line responsible?; Is the individual who perpetrated the attacks entirely responsible leaving the cruise line free and clear?; What if one of the crew members of the ship was one of the attackers? All of these questions make sexually assault liability cases on a cruise ship murky at best. Luckily, we have a couple recent cases that will have to be our lighthouse on this issue.
ASSAULT BY CRUISE EMPLOYEE OR CREW MEMBER
In July of 1999, Plaintiff Jane Doe, was a passenger on a cruise ship, embarking on a one-week round-trip cruise from New York City to Bermuda. During the cruise, the plaintiff reported to the cruise line’s medical staff that a crew member/waiter raped her while visiting a port of call. The medical staff treated Doe, and the cruise line flew her home from Bermuda a couple of days later.
The case was initially brought in Miami, Florida federal district court. Admiralty jurisdiction exists where a crew member sexually batters a passenger while the two are onboard the ship, but Doe was raped while on land in Bermuda. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that admiralty jurisdiction also holds when the cruise ship is at a port of call. The court reasoned that the port of call “was an integral part of the on-going cruise or maritime activity in this case.” And that “Ports-of-call not only add to the enjoyment of a cruise but form an essential function of the cruise experience.” Moreover, applying admiralty jurisdiction for ports of call maintain consistency instead of differing laws depending on the port. Doe v. Celebrity Cruise Inc., 394 F.3d 891, 905-912 (11th Cir. 2004).
In regards to the duty of care owed to a passenger of a cruise ship, the court cites Brockett which states, “peculiarly applicable as between carriers and passengers; for … a common carrier is bound, as far as practicable, to protect its passengers, while being conveyed, from violence committed by strangers and co-passengers, and undertakes absolutely to protect them against the misconduct of its own servants engaged in executing the contract.” This means that the cruise ship is responsible for the actions of their employees even if they are “outside of the scope” of their work duties. The court also cited itself in Tullis that “an admiralty action involving liability to ship passengers, ‘[t]he liability basis is negligence with the only apparent exception being the unconditional responsibility of the carrier for the misconduct of the crew toward the passengers.’” The Eleventh Circuit held that there is a heightened standard of care and cruise ships are responsible for the behavior of their employees no matter how extreme. Doe, 394 F.3d at 905-912.
ASSAULT BY ANOTHER PASSENGER OF THE CRUISE SHIP
The next question is who is liable if I was sexually assaulted by another passenger of a cruise ship. Luckily, we have another case out of Florida federal district court to give us guidance. In the 2012 case of Doe v. NCL, a young woman was raped after a cruise pub crawl by another passenger. The court held that a cruise ship might be liable for the attack of one passenger on another passenger. “The standard of reasonable care applicable to a cruise ship carrier includes the duty to warn passengers of dangers that are not apparent and obvious. To impose liability, the carrier must have had actual or constructive notice of the risk-creating condition. Thus, a finding of negligence in a passenger personal injury action is determined on a case-by-case basis. Further, when the danger is a criminal act carried out by a non-crewmember, a party will be liable in negligence for intervening criminal acts only if the acts were foreseeable.” Thus, the ship is liable of foreseeable dangers if they know of a “risk-creating condition.” The court furthered stated that final decision of whether the plaintiff was at a heightened risk of sexual assault was a decision for the jury. Doe v. NCL, No. 11–22230–Civ., 2012 WL 5512347, at *6-7 (S.D. FL. Nov. 14, 2012).
CONTACT FLORIDA MARITIME ATTORNEYS DOLMAN LAW GROUP
The horrible truth is that sexual assault and rape occur aboard cruise ships and at vacation hotspots. What is meant to be a peaceful and retreat can become an emotionally, physically and psychologically distressing experience. Victims of sexual assault while abroad a cruise ship can use the courts to hold those who failed to prevent the assault financially accountable. Cruise lines are required to protect their passengers from attack by their hired staff. Even if a cruise line did not have an opportunity to prevent the attack, or was unaware of a staff member’s propensity for violence, the cruise line is strictly liable for the assault. Furthermore, the cruise line may also be liable for an assault by another passenger if the ship knew of a risk creating condition and failed to warn the passengers. The lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, can help you file suit against the cruise line in order to win the compensation for medical treatment, pain and suffering, and other expenses you are entitled to receive.
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