Going on a cruise is a fun and relaxing way to spend a vacation. Not only do you get to see interesting places when the ship docks in port but you also get to participate in any number of fun activities aboard the ship itself.
However, in recent years, cruise ships have been in the headlines more and more for various calamities that have befallen passengers. In 2015, there were 11 reported outbreaks of norovirus aboard cruise ships. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus you can catch from contaminated food, water, or by touching a contaminated surface. The virus causes nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. The most recent outbreak was aboard the Caribbean Princess which is operated by Princess Cruise Lines. The CDC report states that 163 passengers and 13 crew members fell ill from the virus. The cruise was cut short by the cruise line and the ship returned to port early, though the reason Princess gave for the shortened trip was not because of the virus outbreak. Instead it was because there was dense fog forecasted that would have made the Houston port impossible to navigate.
Illness is not the only danger passengers face when boarding cruise ship. James Hausman of Spingfield, IL was on an 8 month around the world cruise with his family when he was injured on board a Holland America Line cruise. An automatic sliding door struck Hausman in the side of the head while he was heading out to the ship's pool. He was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury as well as post concussive syndrome. Hausman brought suit against the cruise line. As it turns out Holland America Line had had similar problems with sliding doors on their cruise ships in recent years. A jury found for Hausman, awarding him $21 million. (Though this was overturned on appeal and new trial was ordered because Hausman deleted pertinent emails that should have been turned over to the defense during the discovery phase.)
Cruise lines are common carriers and "[a] high degree of care is demanded of common carriers toward their passengers." Vierling v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 339 F.3d 1309, 1319 (11th Cir. 2003). When a ship fails to meet this heightened standard of care, they can be held liable for any injuries that result from their negligence. Kornberg v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 741 F.2d 1332, 1334 (11th Cir. 1984).
Cruise Ship Lawsuits
If a passenger is thinking of pursuing a lawsuit against a cruise line for their injuries, they will want to take a look at their ticket. Cruise ship tickets act as a contract between the cruise line and the passenger and often contain several important provisions that will govern how and where a lawsuit can be brought. Id. at 1335.
Cruise ship tickets frequently contain a forum selection clause. This means that if a passenger is seeking to bring a lawsuit he or she can only file the lawsuit in a particular place as designated by the forum section clause. For example, if the cruise line is headquartered in Florida it may require any lawsuit against it be brought in a Florida court.
However, sometimes a cruise ship ticket will also contain a choice of law provision. A choice of law provision is a provision that states what law will govern the case. Sometimes the choice of law provision will state the law of a certain state controls the case instead of maritime law. If the state the passenger is filing a lawsuit against the cruise liner in has a shorter statute of limitations for personal injury cases, then that statute will be controlling in the case. In addition, a cruise line may also require notice of a lawsuit and may have an even shorter time period that the required notice must be given in.
Cruise ship cases can be quite complex and it is best to consult with an experienced attorney if you are considering filing a lawsuit.
When departing on a vacation the last thing on most people's minds is being injured or falling ill. Thoughts are instead on exploring new destinations, meeting new people, and having fun experiences. While it is important to be aware of the potential dangers you can face while on a cruise, with any luck no harm will befall you and the only things you will return to port with are fun memories and a tan.