While on A Cruise, The Ship Was in An Accident. Who Is Liable for My Injuries?
For many people, a cruise is an ultimate vacation. The industry generates around $52.7 billion to the United States in 2018 and almost 13 million passengers departed from US ports that year. Most cruisers have a great time and cruise ship accidents are relatively rare when compared to other means of transport. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong, and the food and exotic ports aren’t the things that stand out most for some passengers.
Ships can run aground, catch on fire, or collide with other vessels. Between 2005 and 2018, there were reports of 448 major cruise ship accidents reported. Among the most publicized of these was the Costa Concordia which sank after running aground in 2012. This was the largest cruise vessel to wreck in history and it resulted in 32 deaths and several injuries.
If you were injured while on a cruise ship, you may be worried about whether you have recourse. If the accident happened while the ship was docked in United States waters, that state’s laws may apply. However, if you suffered injuries while on the high seas, things can get complicated. Jurisdiction may be difficult to determine under maritime laws. These types of incidents are, therefore, usually handled on a case-by-case basis. As soon as possible after the accident, you need to reach out to an attorney with experience in this area.
How Maritime Laws May Affect Your Case
If you were injured in navigable waters, international maritime laws will often apply. These laws may limit your right to recover damages and they are different from the usual premises liability laws that would apply in your home state. Typically, the cruise ship can only be held liable if you can prove the operator knew or should have known about an unsafe condition on the vessel.
However, if the cruise ship departed from a US port, it will likely be considered a common carrier. A common carrier is any business that transports goods or people for any person or company. It is responsible for any loss that occurs during transport. Airlines, railroad companies, and trucking companies are also common carriers. If the ship you were on in seen as a common carrier, the cruise line has an expanded duty of care to keep passengers safe.
Why Your Ticket Contract Matters
One of the first things your attorney will do is look at your contract with the cruise line. It will likely contain a number of clauses including one that restricts the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. You may be used to a statute of limitations of two or more years in your state. However, cruise ships often give passengers just 180 days to file a notice of claim and provide details of the injury. They then have a year to file the actual lawsuit. This means you don’t have a lot of time to waste after the accident. As soon as possible after you get injured, you need to contact an attorney so they can begin looking into the situation.
Your ticket may also come with a forum selection clause. This limits the jurisdictions in which you can file a lawsuit. Some companies restrict passengers from bringing lawsuits only in cities with major ports regardless of where the passengers originate. Passengers who suffered injuries have in the past been able to challenge such a clause so you shouldn’t assume you can’t file a claim in a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction.
It possible that your contract with the cruise line also includes a choice of law clause. This identifies the law that will be applied if there’s a dispute. The law that is chosen by the cruise company can have a significant effect on the outcome of your case. In determining whether such a clause should be upheld, the courts will consider:
- The location where the negligent act occurred
- The law of the flag
- The domicile or allegiance of the injured person
- The allegiance of the ship’s owner
- The law of the forum
Determining Liability Following A Cruise Ship Accident
Cruise ship operators are not strictly liable for injuries suffered by passengers. Under maritime law, negligence rests largely on whether a reasonably careful ship operator would have been aware of the dangerous condition. The law concedes that even the most careful operator can’t anticipate every hazard. If the accident was caused by the captain’s negligence, the cruise line may be held liable.
However, if the accident was caused by a weather system or another vessel, things may not be so clear-cut. To hold the cruise ship company responsible, you will need proof of negligence. Your attorney may be able to show that the operator didn’t comply with a regulation or they may rely on an expert witness to support your claim.
It’s possible that a specific crew member caused the accident that led to your injuries. In such a case, you may wonder if you can seek compensation from that individual or if the cruise line would still be liable. If a crew member acted negligently or willfully, the court may still hold the operator liable. However, this isn’t guaranteed. When you discuss the details of the accident with your attorney and they do their own investigations, they will determine the best approach.
In some cases, your attorney may suggest that you pursue neither the cruise line nor a specific employee. Instead, they may recommend that you seek compensation from a part manufacturer. Maybe the ship was outfitted with a defective part and it caused the ship to catch afire. While you may still be able to file a claim against the cruise line, you may also want to pursue damages from the company that manufactured the part.
Discuss Your Injury with a Skilled Attorney
Your attorney will play a major role in your case. Taking on a cruise line will not be easy. The more serious your injuries are, the more difficult it may be to get compensation. You won’t be able to prove that the cruise company or a crew member was negligent on your own. As soon as possible after your injury, you must reach out to an experienced attorney for advice and representation.