What Lies Beneath: Protecting Your Rights at Sea

On a cruise ship, you are at your most vulnerable. You are a stranger in a strange land. You are far from friends and family. Who looks out for you when you are in international waters? Who is responsible for your safety when you are out to sea?

Maritime law provides that the owner of a vessel owes a reasonable duty of care for the safety of its passengers. This is a frightening proposition when you think of the utter unsuspecting nature of most cruise ship passengers. You don’t board a cruise ship anticipating disaster. No, you go expecting the vacation of a lifetime. You go to celebrate Aunt Edna’s 85th birthday. You go to celebrate your younger brother who, after eight long years, has finally graduated from college. And what exactly is a reasonable duty of care when a cruise ship employs hundreds of staff? Multiply this along with hundreds of passengers and still other variables—excursions, food borne illness, individual criminal activity, excessive drinking and drug-related activity—and one wonders what a cruise line can reasonably be expected to do to protect the rights and ensure the safety of its passengers at sea.

Accidents can and do happen anywhere. On cruise ships, the cruise line may be held accountable only for accidents that arise due to the cruise line’s negligence. Negligence is loosely defined in terms of duty, breach, causation and harm. This means first that the cruise line had a duty, for example to keep the floors free of any obstructions its passengers might trip over. Second, the cruise line breached that duty. In our example this would be by leaving a pile of broken glass in the middle of the floor even though their staff had been alerted it was there. Third, that the cruise line’s breach of its duty caused an injury to occur. Furthering our example, this could result in a man tripping and falling on the broken glass. Finally, in order to sustain a cause of action against the cruise ship for negligence, damages or harm to an individual must be established. In our example, the man who tripped and fell on a pile of glass could establish that he was harmed by sustaining cuts and perhaps even severed veins due to falling on the pile of glass.

How do cruise lines protect themselves from an onslaught of litigants injured at sea? From the moment your cruise ticket is issued, the cruise line is protecting itself from potential litigation. The typical personal injury plaintiff has a three year statute of limitations in which to bring his or her claim. However, the cruise lines shorten this time to one year, to which you implicitly agree when you purchase a cruise ticket. You also agree, via your purchase of a ticket, to litigate any and all claims you may have against the cruise line in the state specified in…you guessed it, your cruise ticket. Furthermore, your cruise ticket may also place notice requirements in the language of the ticket. These notice requirements could further restrict the unsuspecting litigant’s right to sue.

Contacting an attorney experienced in maritime law can help preserve and pursue your rights. However, time is of the essence in maritime law claims. It is therefore important that you contact an experienced maritime lawyer as soon as you are aware an injury has occurred.  Our local recommendation is up in Mobile.  Their firm is:

Charles McCorquodale Law
3709 Stein Street
Mobile, Alabama 36608
(251) 220-2790

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