Over the years, cruise ship travel has soared to record highs in the United States. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, an average of 15 million passengers set sail in 2010, with about 3 million departing from the Port of Miami alone. With ports located in Miami, Tampa, Canaveral, and Fort Lauderdale, it is no wonder why Florida is considered one of the main hubs for cruise departures.
It’s Not Always Smooth Sailing
Cruises are designed to make passengers do nothing but relax and rely on the staff for almost every need they could possibly imagine. Even though no one embarks on a cruise expecting something to go wrong, unexpected and unavoidable accidents can and do occur. Cruise ship accidents come in many different varieties. When you think of this type of accident, the general tendency is to think of a major ship collision, either with another vessel or some sort of unexpected sinking. Although these types of accident can occur, they are rare. What many people do not realize is that cruise ship accidents also take the form of incidents where passengers slip and fall, trip down stairs, or are burned from an on-deck fire. These types of incidents don’t make the major newspaper headlines, but they occur all the time. Unfortunately, passengers who are injured on a cruise ship often do not take the steps needed to receive compensation for their injuries. This is because they may be uncertain as to whether their injuries are compensable, when their claim must be filed, where to file their claim, and what laws apply to their situation.
Why You Need a Lawyer After a Cruise Ship Accident or Injury
When someone is injured on a cruise ship, he or she maintains an advantage of receiving just compensation with the help of a cruise ship injury attorney. At Rue & Ziffra, we employ a knowledgeable team of attorneys who are familiar with federal maritime law. Cruise injury law is different from other types of personal injury law. For example, there are strict provisions regarding jurisdiction over a cruise ship claim. This means that, even though you live out of state, you will most likely have to file a claim for damages in Florida depending on where your cruise line is located. Further, cruise lines draft very detailed and inclusive contracts that every passenger must agree to before embarking on a cruise. Trying to understand the terms within can be confusing and daunting for anyone, let alone someone who has no experience with legal terminology. Do not think that you have to fight for the compensation you deserve alone. You can always contact a cruise ship accident lawyer at any time to go over the details of your injury and potential claim. At Rue & Ziffra, your initial consultation with one of our attorneys is free and easy. When individuals are involved in a cruise ship accident, they are often faced with many uncertainties in regards to their rights. Below, we hope to provide you with assurance as we answer our most common questions regarding cruise ship injury claims:
Common Definitions You May See During Your Cruise Ship Accident Claim
Below are some common terms and definitions you may come across when reading your cruise ticket or when pursuing a cruise ship accident claim.
Agreement – (also “Contract”) means the terms and conditions set forth in this Ticket Contract together with the Cruise or CruiseTour Fare due for Your Cruise or CruiseTour.
Burden of Proof – where the plaintiff is responsible to offer evidence to convince the judge that a question of fact exists as to the defendant's negligence, but he must convince the jury by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was in fact negligent. This is based on the premise that there is no presumption of negligence merely because an accident has happened.
Carrier - includes: (i) the Vessel, or any substituted ship; (ii) the Vessel's Operator; and (iii) the owners, managers, charterers, affiliates, successors and assigns of the entities identified in subsections (i) and (ii) of this sentence. Carrier also shall include the officers, directors, employees, agents, crew or pilots of the entities identified in the preceding sentence.
Comparative Fault – a doctrine stating that the plaintiff will assume partial liability for his injuries if he, combined with the negligence of the defendant, negligently puts himself in a position of peril thereby exposing himself to injury.
Compensation – the money allowance payable to an employee or to his or her dependents.
Damages - The monetary losses an injured party has suffered as a result of another’s negligence. In a personal injury claim, damages can be awarded to the injured party in the form of financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages and property damage. Damages include physical, financial and emotional injuries.
Forum Selection Clause - a particular clause (set of words) in a contract stating that any and all disputes or lawsuits arising from a cruise ship accident are to be resolved in a particular court.
Negligence – the general meaning of the word “negligence” consists of conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk. In maritime law, it requires that ship owners comply with a standard of reasonable care in conducting their maritime activities. Therefore, a maritime actor who negligently injures or kills another will be liable under the general maritime law for damages except to the extent that the remedy has been modified by statute.
Passenger - one who travels in a public conveyance by virtue of a contract with the carrier, express or implied, paying fare or something accepted as an equivalent.
Statute of Limitations - a law which sets the maximum period in which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim. If the lawsuit or claim is not filed before the statutory deadline, the right to sue or make a claim is forever barred. Sometimes statute of limitations run from the date of injury, no matter when the injury was said to be discovered by the victim.
Vessel – the ship owned or chartered or operated by the cruise line on which the passenger may be traveling or against which the passenger may assert a claim, as well as any substituted ship used in the performance of a cruise contract. In reference to an injured worker on board a vessel, this term means any craft upon which or in connection with which any person entitled to benefits (and injured worker) suffers injury or death arising out of or in the course of his employment
What Laws Govern Cruise Ship Injuries and Accidents?
For almost each area of law, your home state will typically have its own statutes and rules governing it. This means that, if you live in Florida you will be subject to specific Florida laws and statutes of limitations if you are hurt in an automobile accident or slip and fall injury. However, cruise ship accidents and injuries are governed under the area of maritime law. This is an area that falls within Federal jurisdiction, rather than under the State’s authority. As such, federal regulations and statute of limitations govern what happens after you are injured on board a cruise ship. There are several sources of admiralty and maritime law. These include, the U.S. Constitution, treaties and international conventions, federal statutes, the general maritime law and other judicial decisions, administrative regulations, and custom.
The Constitution and Federal Statutes
Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution sets up a provision known as the “Admiralty Clause.” It extends the judicial power of the United States to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. Congress has expressly implemented the Admiralty Clause by enacting 28 U.S.C.A. § 1333 (1993), which states that the district courts shall have original jurisdiction over any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. When using the Constitution to resolve admiralty and maritime disputes, courts looks more towards the historical context it provides. This is because, like many other areas of law, the Constitution itself does not provide specific legal rules to apply in maritime situations.
The General Maritime Law
To resolve maritime issues over the years, Congress has mandated certain regulations but it has never enacted a comprehensive maritime code. Thus, courts that had to resolve disputes first hand have had to create rules to fill gaps or to supplement legislation. As such, these rules have come to be known as a body of substantive rules referred to as the “general maritime law.” Firstly, the general maritime law consists of rules that are customarily applied by other countries in similar situations. Secondly, many courts have created substantive rules out of necessity or have even looked to state law to resolve maritime disputes.
Your Cruise Ticket
Keep in mind that cruise lines are free to create their own contracts that are agreed to and signed by every passenger when a ticket is purchased. These contracts can set certain limitations on any potential lawsuits that may arise, aside from what is stipulated in federal regulation. For example, maritime law cases can be litigated in State court as long as the contract between the cruise ship and the passenger allows it.
Who Will Be Handling My Claim at Your Firm?
If you are injured while aboard a cruise ship, you will deal directly with Attorney Luis Gracia upon contacting Rue & Ziffra. Recently, Mr. Gracia was admitted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. This is relevant because the majority of cruise ship contracts stipulate that any suit against the cruise line shall be litigated in Federal District Court.
Attorney Luis Gracia began his practice at Rue & Ziffra in 1998 and is one of the firm’s valued partners. He attended the University of Puerto Rico’s main campus in Rio Piedras before transferring to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where he graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. Mr. Gracia obtained his law degree in 1998 from Texas Southern University, in Houston. Along with cruise ship injury cases, Mr. Gracia focuses his practice on social security disability, workers’ compensation, personal injury, and wrongful death cases. He handles numerous social security disability cases all over Florida and is intimately familiar with the relevant regulations and procedures that play a critical role in the recovery of funds. Attorney Luis Gracia is a native to Ponce, Puerto Rico and can speak fluent Spanish. Devoted to each client and each case, Mr. Gracia makes sure that his clients are well informed and fully understand the legal process. He is very responsive and committed to delivering high-quality legal and personal services to all of his clients and their families.
I Was Injured on a Cruise Ship, What Do I Do Now?
The answer to this question is twofold. After any accident, you should always think about receiving medical attention to determine if your injuries or symptoms are in need of proper care. Once you take care of yourself, then it is time to think about protecting your legal rights.
For a quick and easy step-by-step guide regarding what to do after any accident, you can also consult our new Accident App. This electronic guide is free and available for download to your smartphone.
Seek Medical Attention. First and foremost, whenever you are injured in an accident of any kind, your first priority is to seek medical assistance. This may seem like a commonplace reaction when you are hurt, especially for more serious injuries and emergency situations. However, even “small” injuries should receive medical evaluation. Often, clients who do not feel the need to seek medical attention develop symptoms later from the initial accident. The longer you wait to have these symptoms checked on, though, the more difficult it becomes to prove that they were directly caused by the accident itself.
Retain Evidence Immediately. It is always helpful to be able to provide direct evidence of the cause of your injury as it related to the cruise line’s negligence. Thus, if possible, take pictures of where the accident occurred as well as pictures of your injuries. This includes both close-ups, full body shots, and pictures documenting the progression/worsening of your injuries. Also, if any witnesses were present when you were injured aboard the cruise ship, get their contact information and any statements they provide. This can be used as proof to help your claim seem legitimate and worthy of compensation.
Check Your Cruise Ticket. In pursuing any type of legal action against the cruise line, the first thing you should do is check your cruise ticket. Cruise lines prepare detailed contracts and specification on their tickets that mandate what you need to do when involved in a cruise ship accident. For instance, your cruise ship ticket or contract may require you to notify the cruise line of your injury within a certain time period (often it will be six months) after the date of your accident aboard the cruise ship. This time period is crucial to know because if you fail to notify the cruise line of your injury, you may be forever barred from bringing a suit against it and collecting damages for your injury. Your ticket or contract with the cruise line also may have a provision requiring you to bring a lawsuit within a certain jurisdiction. This is known as a forum selection clause, which dictates any sort of litigation restrictions the cruise line places on potential suits against them. Be sure to know and understand where your claim needs to be filed, even if it is different than your place of residency.
Document Your Efforts. If you do choose to notify the cruise line of your injury on your own, make sure to keep copies of all your records and letters. This is done to provide you with proof that you did in fact alert the cruise line of your injury incase it denies your efforts later. As such, be sure to again check your ticket carefully to know the requirements of the cruise line and make every move by the book. For example, send letters by certified mail, ask for the names of any individuals you speak to regarding your claim, and keep a journal of events, dates, and times regarding your efforts.
Contact a Cruise Ship Injury Lawyer. Because the failure to abide by the time limitations and litigation regulations indicated in your cruise contract can preclude you from recovering damages for your cruise ship injury, it is often imperative to contact an attorney knowledgeable in maritime and injury law. Do not feel like you have to go up against the cruise line by yourself. Understanding your cruise ticket can be confusing and exhausting, and a cruise accident attorney is there to help you through these troubling times. Remember, your initial consultation at Rue & Ziffra is always free. Even if you are unsure of whether or not you have a claim for a cruise ship injury, our attorneys are willing and able to listen to your story and determine your potentiality to receive damages.
Should I Try to Settle A Cruise Ship Claim On My Own?
A common scene we see as attorneys includes individuals trying to deal with and settle claims on their own after being injured in an accident. This is because people are generally skeptical against the use of an attorney and feel that they can “work out” things with the other party on their own. Although we typically inform the public that it can be beneficial to seek legal advice after being hurt in an accident, it seems even more imperative for claims against cruise lines. Remember, unlike other areas of personal injury law, any claims against a cruise ship are regulated under federal maritime law. This means that there are strict obligations and limitations that each passenger must abide by, let alone understand, when pursuing a cruise injury claim. Further, the cruise line itself sets its own list of regulations in its contract that you sign. As such, it may not be the wisest choice to try to settle your cruise injury claim on your own. You not only have to rigorously abide by the contract you entered with the cruise line when you purchased your ticket, but failing to follow these terms can lead to a denial of your claim. This means you receive no compensation for serious and often life-altering injuries.
The Clock is Ticking
Even if a cruise line does not initially deny your claim for damages, it may still work in ways that will hurt your chances of receiving what you deserve. For example, the cruise line may take a long time to investigate the accident or pass on your information to the responding parties. This is detrimental to your claim because the statute of limitations clock is ticking. If your claim is not filed properly within the mandated time, your suit may be barred forever, leaving you with little options and no compensation.
Your Compensation May Not Be What You Need
Sometimes when individuals try to settle an automobile accident claim on their own, the responsible party’s insurance company will offer a settlement that is arguably lower than what he or she deserves. The same is true for cruise injury claims. However, an attorney with experience and knowledge of maritime and accident law can often provide a better argument and more proof of why you deserve more for your injuries.
Also, we are aware of cruise lines offering hurt individuals compensation in the form of a free cruise to individuals. Although this is a nice gesture, and may seem like a good trade-off, we do not consider a free cruise close to what our clients deserve for their cruise ship injury. When you are hurt, you need adequate compensation to cover your health care, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, and future expenses associated with your injury.
What is a Forum Selection Clause?
A forum selection clause is a particular clause (set of words) in a contract stating that any and all disputes or lawsuits arising from a cruise ship accident are to be resolved in a particular court. When you sign your cruise contract or purchase your ticket, you agree to bring any potential claim in the location specified in the forum selection clause and waive your right to file suit in any other court.
The forum selection clause will change in regards to the specific cruise line you choose to go with. However, many of the major lines travelling to places off of the coast of Florida will typically mandate that all claims be filed in Miami Federal District Court. In order to determine whether or not a forum selection clause is enforceable in a given situation, federal law mandates the “fundamental fairness standard.” This standard requires that the forum selection provision dictated on your cruise ticket be “reasonably communicated” to each passenger. This is to ensure that each cruise passenger receives sufficient notice of the conditions that he or she is accepting when purchasing a ticket. To determine whether a forum selection clause has been “reasonably communicated” to a passenger, the court must gauge the physical characteristics of contractual terms and sufficiency of warnings as to how well they alert passenger to terms under which contract will be performed. Resource: Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd. v. Clark 841 So.2d 547 (2003).
What Things Should I Look For In My Cruise Contract?
Throughout the information provided on our cruise ship accidents page, we have consistently urged you to acknowledge and understand the terms written on your cruise ticket. We will now take a closer look at some of the important terms your ticket and contract will provide and what each of those mean if you were to file a claim after being injured aboard a cruise ship.
The Forum Selection Clause
Each cruise line dictates in its contract that any and all claims brought against it shall be filed in a specific jurisdiction. This location will depend heavily on the specific cruise line you choose as well as where the cruise travels to and from. Typically, the forum selection clause will be set in such places as Seattle, Miami, or Los Angeles. For example, here is an excerpt from the Royal Caribbean Cruise contract dictating that any suit against it shall be litigated in Miami: EXCEPT AS PROVIDED IN SECTION 10 (b) WITH REGARD TO CLAIMS SUBJECT TO BINDING ARBITRATION, IT IS AGREED BY AND BETWEEN PASSENGER AND CARRIER THAT ALL DISPUTES AND MATTERS WHATSOEVER ARISING UNDER, IN CONNECTION WITH OR INCIDENT TO THIS AGREEMENT, PASSENGER'S CRUISE, CRUISETOUR, RCT LAND TOUR OR TRANSPORT, SHALL BE LITIGATED, IF AT ALL, IN AND BEFORE THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA LOCATED IN MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, U.S.A., (OR AS TO THOSE LAWSUITS TO WHICH THE FEDERAL COURTS OF THE UNITED STATES LACK SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION, BEFORE A COURT LOCATED IN MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, U.S.A.) TO THE EXCLUSION OF THE COURTS OF ANY OTHER STATE, TERRITORY OR COUNTRY. PASSENGER HEREBY CONSENTS TO JURISDICTION AND WAIVES ANY VENUE OR OTHER OBJECTION THAT HE MAY HAVE TO ANY SUCH ACTION OR PROCEEDING BEING BROUGHT IN THE APPLICABLE COURT LOCATED IN MIAMI- DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA. To learn more, read section 9 of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Contract.
The Statute of Limitations
Another important section to read and understand in your cruise contract concerns the time limits placed on litigation actions. Typically, a cruise line requires you to first provide it with notice of your injury within six months of receiving your injury. Secondly, it will usually mandate that you file your lawsuit within one year of your injury. Below is an excerpt from the Royal Caribbean Cruise contract dictating these time limits: TIME LIMITS FOR PERSONAL INJURY/ILLNESS/DEATH CLAIMS: NO SUIT SHALL BE MAINTAINABLE AGAINST CARRIER, THE VESSEL OR THE TRANSPORT FOR PERSONAL INJURY, ILLNESS OR DEATH OF ANY PASSENGER UNLESS WRITTEN NOTICE OF THE CLAIM, WITH FULL PARTICULARS, SHALL BE DELIVERED TO CARRIER AT ITS PRINCIPAL OFFICE WITHIN SIX (6) MONTHS FROM THE DATE OF THE INJURY, ILLNESS OR DEATH AND SUIT IS COMMENCED (FILED) WITHIN ONE (1) YEAR FROM THE DATE OF SUCH INJURY, ILLNESS OR DEATH AND PROCESS SERVED WITHIN 120 DAYS AFTER FILING, NOTWITHSTANDING ANY PROVISION OF LAW OF ANY STATE OR COUNTRY TO THE CONTRARY. To learn more, read section 10 of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Contract.
Limitations of Liability
It is also important to note that cruise lines will not be responsible for every type of mishap that could occur during a voyage. As such, cruise contracts will dictate certain situations that the cruise line will not assume liability over, including:
- Injury caused by an act of nature, such as a hurricane
- Injury caused by a third party, such as an independent contractor
- Injury caused by a medical provider retained personally by the passenger
- Damage caused to baggage or property that is not from the direct negligence of the cruise carrier
What Issues Are Not The Cruise Line’s Responsibility?
Although certain problems and mishaps may occur during your voyage, it is important to note that the cruise line will not be liable for everything that could go wrong.
Change in Itinerary
A cruise line is not responsible for a change in your travel itinerary. This means that the cruise line has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled activity, departure or destination, and may land the passenger at any port. This may occur if the cruise line believes that the voyage or any passenger or property may be hindered as a result of hostilities, blockages, prevailing weather conditions, labor conflicts, strikes onboard or ashore, breakdown of the vessel, congestion, docking difficulties, medical or life saving emergencies or any other cause whatsoever.
As such, the cruise line will not be liable for any claim by a passenger for such a change in itinerary, including claims for loss, compensation, or refund. However, as a public relations gesture some cruise lines may offer money to its passengers for missing a port.
Acts of Nature
A cruise line is not responsible for damage to your baggage or person resulting from acts of nature. This is because the premise of personal injury law is based around compensating individuals for the injuries they receive because of the negligence of another. Negligence in the general sense of the word consists of conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk. In this case, it means that the cruise line or someone it is responsible for acted in a way that falls below the accepted standard of care the law imposes on cruise lines.
Because acts of nature like hurricanes are beyond the cruise line’s control, it cannot be responsible as a direct cause of any injuries you receive in such a scenario.
Theft from Rooms
Most cruise contracts and tickets limit the cruise line’s liability for theft. Generally, liability for stolen money, jewelry, or other valuables that are left unattended in the vessel or cabin will not be recoverable on behalf of the cruise line. Further, even if the cruise line is negligent and your valuables are taken as a result of this negligence, the cruise line will often impose a limit on their liability. For example, Royal Caribbean sets a $100 limit of liability for lost valuables, and a $500 limit if the valuables are deposited in a safe-deposit box in the purser’s office and then lost or stolen.
Loss or Damage to Baggage
The cruise line is neither responsible nor liable for any loss of or damage to a passenger's property, whether contained in luggage or otherwise. However, this rule does not stand if the cruise line was negligent and directly caused the loss or damage of your belongings. Liability for loss of or damage to a passenger’s property in connection with any air or ground transportation will be the sole responsibility of the provider of the service, such as a third party independent contractor.
How Do I Know if the Cruise Line is Responsible?
Courts generally determine whether a cruise line is legally responsible to a passenger by closely reviewing the terms of the passenger ticket and/or contract. The cruise line spent considerable effort drafting language that protects them from various types of situations, and this language is clearly stated within the terms that you agree to before embarking on a cruise. However, when a passenger has been injured or assaulted while aboard a cruise ship, there is a federal statute that prohibits cruise lines from limiting their liability totally in these circumstances.
If I Am Injured On A Cruise Ship, What Proof Should I Present To Support A Personal Injury Claim?
It is important to remember that not all injuries you receive while aboard a cruise ship are the responsibility of the cruise line or compensable. However, when you are legitimately injured because of the negligence of the cruise line, you are entitled to receive adequate compensation for those injuries. Like other types of personal injury claims, a claimant filing a cruise ship accident claim has the burden of proof. This means he or she is responsible for proving that the cruise ship is liable for his or her injuries.
The first and most important issue to consider when filing a personal injury claim is establishing the cruise line’s liability. Remember, it is the passenger’s burden to prove that the cruise line is legally responsible for the accident, which must also be a direct cause of your injuries. To prove that the cruise line was negligent and thus liable for your injuries, you have to first establish that there was a danger aboard the ship, such as an unexpected step-down without any warning signs. Secondly, you must establish that the cruise line knew or should have known of the hazard, yet failed to correct the hazard or warn passengers of the danger. After you establish that there was a hazard and that the cruise line did not take reasonable steps to correct it, you must then prove that this hazard was a direct cause of your injuries. For instance, you cannot claim that a slippery floor was the cause of your injury when it was actually a pre-existing condition that you received from your own fault. If feasible, you should take photographs and possibly video of the accident scene, and document what occurred as you remember it. Also, record the names and addresses of all witnesses and get their testimony as soon as possible to help your claim.
The second issue you need to consider when filing a personal injury claim after being involved in a cruise ship accident concerns your damages. Damages are the medical expenses, lost wages, and other intangible losses caused by an injury. To prove that you sustained damages from the cruise ship accident, keep receipts of all of your out-of-pocket expenses, insurance claims, and medical bills. Also, be sure to request any medical records of your treatment to have as proof of the severity of your injury as well as the doctor’s recommendation for future treatment.
What Types of Injuries Can Happen Aboard a Cruise Ship?
When you think of cruise ship accidents, the typical scenario seems to include a major offshore collision with another vessel or unexplainable sinking. However, cruise ship accidents come in all severities and varieties, many of which you might not even consider before embarking on a voyage.
Some of the different types of cruise ship accidents that can occur include:
- Trips and slips due to slippery substances and dangerous surfaces.
- Falls in cabins and on decks, stairways, ladders and ramps.
- Injuries while on shore excursions.
- Fires and collisions at sea.
- Illnesses caused by contaminated food and beverages.
- Failure to provide appropriate medical treatment.
- Failure to accommodate passengers with disabilities.
Keep in mind that there is endless possibility to the type of injuries you can sustain from being subject to one of these types of accidents. Although some injuries may be categorized as more “severe” than others, it is important for you to receive proper medical treatment even if you think your injuries will go away quickly. You do not want to realize that a seemingly small injury is in fact something more when it’s too late to file a claim against the cruise line.
Also, remember that even if you are involved in an accident while aboard the cruise ship you still maintain the burden of proving that the cruise line was negligent and that this negligence was a direct cause of your injuries. Such things as warning signs around a slippery area may alleviate some of the cruise line’s liability, but it may not exonerate them completely from providing you with compensation. As always, you can seek the consultation of a cruise accident attorney after being hurt on a cruise ship. Your initial case evaluation with Rue & Ziffra is always free, and can provide you with clarity regarding your rights and obligations for your potential cruise injury claim.
Representation for Injured Crewmembers & The Jones Act[a]
Individuals who work on cruise ships are also at risk of becoming injured or sick while aboard the vessel. If a crewmember suffers an illness or injury on board a ship as a result of the negligence of others, he or she may be entitled to receive compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and other damages.
Who is considered an employee?
An individual looking to receive compensation for an injury under the Jones Act must be considered an employee. An employee in this context means any person engaged in maritime employment, including any longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor-worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship-breaker.
As such, individuals fulfilling the following capacities are not considered “employees” who are eligible to receive damages for a cruise ship accident:
- Secretarial or clerical workers;
- Security guards;
- Individuals employed by a club, camp, recreational operation, restaurant, museum, or retail outlet;
- Individuals employed to build any recreational vessel under sixty-five feet in length, or individuals employed to repair any recreational vessel, or to dismantle any part of a recreational vessel in connection with the repair of such vessel.
Who is considered a sailor?
In order for an injured plaintiff to qualify as a sailor, two elements must be met:
the worker's duties "must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission," and
the worker "must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or an identifiable group of vessels) that is substantial in both its duration and its nature."
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act is Federal legislation that was created to aid individuals injured in the line of duty while aboard a sea vessel. Such vessels include fishing boats, Cruise Ships, barges, offshore oil rigs, water taxis, ferries, riverboat casinos crew boats, and tankers.
The specific language of the Jones Act grants sailors the right to sue and maintain a trial by jury for injuries sustained from working aboard a sea vessel. Also known as Section 33 of the Merchant Maritime Act of 1920, this section provides that “[a]ny seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury…. and in case of the death of any seaman as a result of any such personal injury the Personal Representative of such seaman may maintain an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury.”
Under general maritime law, sailors who were injured by the “master” of the vessel, or by another worker were entitled to receive maintenance and cure, which is a form of contractual compensation that provided a living allowance for food, lodging, and medical expenses.
Whether or not the employer’s negligence caused the injury, the injured seaman has a right to receive such maintenance and cure. This means that the worker may be compensated for the full wages he or she would have earned during his employment contract had the injury not occurred.
If the employer’s negligence directly caused the injury, the seaman may be entitled to receive a variety of damages, including compensation for pain and suffering, medical bills, and future lost wages. What if an employee was injured as a result of “unseaworthiness”?
Typically, injured workers must prove that their injury was the result of someone else’s direct negligence. However, a seaman may be able to recover damages against the vessel owner if the employee was injured as a result of unfit food and provisions, defective equipment on board, or an incompetent crew.
What if the injury took place off of the vessel?
Even if the injury took place off of the sea craft, the worker may still be eligible to receive maintenance and cure against his or her employer. Benefits he or she may be entitled to include hospitalization, medicine, and board and lodging akin to the type the seaman would have received while working on the vessel.
Death on the High Seas[b]
Unfortunately, passengers and crewmembers have been victim to more than just injury onboard a cruise ship. Although cruise lines equip their vessels with safety features and workers who can assist someone in need, there have been reported deaths of individuals while they were on a cruise ship. When the death of a passenger is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default and occurs on a cruise ship that is beyond three nautical miles from the United States shoreline, a civil action in admiralty can be brought against the person (sometimes a crewmember) or the vessel responsible. This action is brought by the personal representative of the deceased individual, and any compensation or damages resulting from the lawsuit is awarded to the decedent's spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative.
13. Criminal Acts by Crewmembers[c]
It’s not uncommon to hear about cruise ship accidents that cause injury to both passengers and staff members. However, there are other unfortunate events that can occur while cruising on a sea vessel to a vacation destination. For instance, there have been reports of rape and sexual assault inflicted on passengers by crewmembers. To see statistics regarding sexual assualt and rape aboard Royal Caribbean International, visit cruisejunkie.com.
Under general maritime law, cruise ship companies are strictly liable for the intentional, wrongful, and criminal acts of their employees such as in a rape or sexual assault claim. This means that the company is liable for this type of crime even if the violator did not intend to actually commit it. However, because the ships are travelling in navigable waters the cruise line companies would often find ways to skirt the usual state laws regarding acts of sexual crimes and prevent a timely investigation from happening. This would leave the victim with little to no evidence of the crime when he or she was able to report it once back on land.
Cruise Ship Vessel Security Act of 2010
In 2010, the Cruise Ship Vessel Security Act was signed into legislation. This is a federal law that requires cruise ship operators to report all sexual assaults, rapes, and other violent crimes in a timely fashion. This is to ensure that evidence of sexual assault can be preserved for the victim’s benefit. This Act also imposes certain safety and security requirements on all cruise ship vessels. Some additional measures include providing video surveillance, room key access logs, storing and maintaining video surveillance, and storing a rape kit with a supply of anti-viral medications on board. Finally, cruise lines are now required to file reports of all rape and sexual assault to the Federal Bureau of Investigations and with the Department of Homeland Security. Although cruise ships are required to report these types of crimes, it is still wise for a victim to contact a personal injury attorney with knowledge of maritime law to ensure that adequate measures are taken to preserve evidence.
The Duty to Warn Against Foreseeable Onshore Crimes[d]
As a result of a case against Carnival Cruise Lines, cruise line operators now have the duty to warn their passengers about any dangerous conditions onshore that is foreseeable to the company. This means that if the cruise lines knows or should know of a dangerous condition at a place where it invites its passengers (or the passengers are reasonably expected) to visit, it must warn the passengers of those dangers.
In the above-mentioned case, victim Liz Marie and her family used Carnival Cruise Line to vacation to St. Thomas. While there, the family visited Coki Beach, which was notorious for gang-related violence and crime. Unfortunately, Liz was killed when a gang fight broke out. Even though Carnival did not personally sponsor the trip, it regularly sold excursion tickets to the destination and was aware of the dangerous situation that was present on the beach. As a result, Liz’s family was able to recover compensation because of Carnival’s failure to warn the family of potential gang violence at their destination.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Similar to other types of personal injury claims, such as automobile accidents and medical malpractice suits, individuals often feel like they can pursue settlement and even litigation on their own. However, by seeking the help of an attorney, these same individuals will often receive the proper attention they deserve and up to a potential 2/3 higher settlement amount than if they go at it alone.
It is no secret that cruise ship accidents are different than some of the other types of personal injury claims. Not only are there strict rules governing every potential lawsuit filed against a cruise line, but also it can be intimidating to pursue a “battle” against a big company. One of the main reasons to consider hiring a cruise injury lawyer after being hurt on a cruise ship concerns the narrow statute of limitations placed on your claim. Remember, you are responsible for properly notifying the cruise line of your injury (typically) within six months of being hurt. You are also responsible for filing your claim within the cruise line’s specified jurisdiction within a certain time, usually within one year of being hurt.
If you are unfamiliar with these time period obligations, or simply unfamiliar with the filing process in general, you put yourself at risk of being barred from bringing your claim at all if too much time passes.
By pursuing the help of a personal injury attorney with experience in cruise accident law, you can rest assured that your lawyer will make sure you meet these time limits and file your claim properly.
Even if you are unsure about whether or not you have a valid claim against a cruise line, or would like to learn more about your rights, you can contact Rue & Ziffra at any time for a free consultation. Our attorneys are willing to listen to your story and evaluate your claim against the cruise line. You can also chat with a knowledgeable attorney or staff member by clicking the “Chat Now” button on our home page.
Cruises are meant to be a fun and relaxing journey for you and your family. However, if an accident does occur, you do not have to feel hopeless. Remember, you deserve adequate compensation for your injuries caused by the cruise line’s negligence.
Let Our Experienced Cruise Ship Accident Attorneys Help You
At Rue & Ziffra we know that Cruise ship litigation is often difficult and time consuming. In the aftermath of an accident, victims are confronted with intricate rules and laws, countless unknowns, and an unrelenting fight against the cruise line in regards to receiving compensation for injuries. If you want full and fair compensation for the injury you sustained on your cruise voyage, we strongly urge you to retain the counsel of experienced cruise ship injury attorneys.
As you can see with the explanations of cruise ship accident issues above, there are dozens of laws and complications that can arise with cruise ship injuries. With over 100 combined years of legal experience, you can trust our law firm to be able to obtain a favorable resolution for your case. Your needs are our priority, and we are available 24/7 to serve you.
We sincerely hope that this information has aided you in your time of need. However, we do realize that the above questions and answers are just the beginning. This is why our attorneys want you to know that you don’t have to be left in the dark in your time of need – there are legal professionals here that are knowledgeable and prepared to fight for your better interests. With your local attorneys Rue & Ziffra on your side, you have the best chance to resolve your case and receive the compensation you deserve.
If you or someone close to you has been involved in a cruise-related accident and is seeking help with an injury claim, please contact an experienced accident attorney now at Rue & Ziffra We proudly serve areas throughout and around Volusia County and Flagler County, Florida, including, Port Orange, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, DeLand, Deltona, Bunnell, Orange City, Sanford, Orlando, and Leesburg.