Rough Seas: The Truth Behind Cruise Line Liability

An affordable way to travel in luxury and comfort, cruise line ships are growing in popularity. However, passengers sometimes suffer accidents and injuries during their cruise line vacations.

Scenarios range from food borne illness to slip-and-falls to sexual battery and more.

Cruise passengers may think the law is on their side if an accident occurs and they seek recovery. However, cruise lines can change the law in a way passengers don’t expect. At the bottom of the ticket, contained in a dozen pages of fine print, the cruise lines lay out limitations on passengers’ rights and disclaim their liability for injuries. Massachusetts courts routinely enforce these releases of liability. Cruise passengers should be aware of what rights they surrender when they buy a ticket and step aboard.

Be Aware Cruise Lines Can Change the Itinerary Without Compensation

First, cruise lines can reserve the right to change the itinerary or skip a port altogether. This clause on the ticket means a passenger who was promised a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico doesn’t have any recourse if she never sets foot there.

The passenger that does manage to dock in Cozumel and injures himself on a snorkeling trip is also out of luck – even if he booked and paid for the trip through the cruise line. Cruise lines can specify in the ticket that they are not liable for injuries sustained on any shore side excursion. Finally, cruise lines can limit their liability for baggage, including jewelry, to $50 to $100 per cabin unless the passenger declares a greater value prior to boarding and pays for additional baggage coverage.

Make Sure you File Any Claims Immediately

Cruise lines can also control when, how, and what claims a passenger can bring for an injury. First, although the normal statute of limitations under maritime law is three years, cruise lines can insert a provision in the ticket that limits the filing time to one year. After that year, the claim is barred. Further, cruise lines can require that passengers notify them in detail of claims within six months from occurrence.

Cruise lines can also determine where claims can be brought by inserting a forum selection clause. Passengers may be limited to bringing claims in one court, even one located across the country. For example, claims against Carnival Cruise Lines can only be brought in Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami. Cruise lines are aware that passengers live all over the country and are likely to be inconvenienced by the forum location.

Finally, cruise lines can limit when passengers can bring claims for emotional distress to instances when the passenger actually suffers physical injury. If the passenger suffers fear from avoidable rough weather or has their entire port of call itinerary canceled, they cannot sue for emotional distress.

Cruises can be a great way to relax and get away, and the majority of cruises are uneventful in terms of injuries or accidents. And for all the laws protecting cruise lines, if an accident does occur, compensation may be possible with the right lawyer. However, until lawmakers reign in the cruise lines, passengers are facing rough seas.

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