Choppy International Waters: the Perils of Maritime Law

Packing for a five-night Caribbean cruise, you are concerned with many things. Did I pack enough shoes? Did I remember my earplug for hubby’s snoring? Will the dogs be okay in their fancy and expensive boarding hotel? But you’re not thinking about all of the accidents that could happen onboard a cruise ship. You’re not considering in which state you would have to retain a lawyer if you had too many glasses of wine during the midnight dessert buffet, slipped on ice cream spilled by a hurried waiter, and stumbled down a flight of stairs, breaking your leg and nose. You’re not wondering what choice of law would govern the case of the Broadway performer who is knocked unconscious by a piece of scenery during the finale of the 9 pm entertainment. You aren’t weighing the consequences of what power our government could exert if a bunch of island natives decided to storm the cruise ship and take everyone one board hostage.

Maritime law is the vast body of laws that govern activities that occur on the high seas. It is indeed a hodgepodge of laws, including tort law, contract law and international law. In most circumstances, the company with whom you are involved will dictate via contract the type of law, where lawsuits may be brought, and the amount of time in which you have to bring a lawsuit.

For example, when you purchase a ticket for a cruise, your boarding passes and tickets will clearly spell out (albeit in very small print) where any lawsuits must be brought. And while you generally have a three year statute of limitations in which to bring a claim for personal injury against a cruise line, cruise lines usually shorten this to a one year statute of limitations as denoted in your cruise ticket. To make matters even more confusing and difficult for a passenger who has been injured, there are normally notice provisions that must happen within a certain period of time as dictated by your cruise line in your cruise ticket. In other words, you may have as little as ten days in which to notify the cruise line that you have suffered an injury due to their negligence. If you fail to provide this notice within ten days or if you provide this notice to the wrong person, your ability to proceed against the cruise line in court may be compromised.

Maritime law provides that ship-owners owe a reasonable duty of care to their passengers. But if you are a passenger who has been injured on a cruise ship, you must contact a lawyer as soon as you possibly can. A lawyer well-versed in maritime law generally and injuries incurred on cruise ships specifically can help you meet the deadlines set forth in your cruise ticket, can help you file your lawsuit in the proper jurisdiction and venue, and can insure that all of the proper notice requirements are followed. Maritime lawyers are trained and knowledgeable about all the steps that need to occur in order to protect your legal rights and remedies.

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