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Filing a Cruise Ship Liability Claim

Hire an experienced cruise ship lawyer from The Doan Law Firm to help with your liability claim

Under United States law any cruise ship that sails from a port in United States-controlled waters, or from a “foreign” port to a US port, is considered a “common carrier.” Since the cruise ship is considered a common carrier, the company that is operating the ship will be held to an ordinary duty of care with respect to the passengers onboard the vessel in the same manner that employees of an airline are expected to protect its passengers from any reasonably-foreseeable physical danger or injury.

Many incidents occurring on cruise ships are similar to accidents that could occur at a typical “landlocked” resort or hotel. Among the more commonly-reported accidents occurring on cruise ships are:

  • “Slip and fall” and “Trip and fall”

Given that a cruise ship is designed to spend most of its time at sea, “slip and fall” accidents are not all that common. A more common event is the “trip and fall” accident, where a passenger will trip over a raised bulkhead whose primary purpose is to keep water out of a cabin or passageway. If there are no clearly posted and easily readable signs warning passengers of a potential danger, the cruise ship’s operator may be held liable for any injuries that might occur.

  • “Over-serving” of alcoholic beverages

It is no great secret that cruise ships derive a substantial part of their revenues from the sale of alcoholic beverages to their passengers. Since there is no requirement in maritime law that a bartender or server of such beverages should refuse to serve an obviously intoxicated passenger, accidents that are linked to alcohol consumption are relatively common on cruise ships.

  • Accidental drowning or near-drowning

Practically all drowning and near-drowning accidents on a cruise ship occur in onboard swimming pools and “miniature” water parks that are frequently attached to these pools. If a cruise ship operator fails to have lifeguards on duty or a medical facility that is staffed by personnel who are qualified in the emergency management of drowning accidents, the lack of personnel could be taken as negligence on the part of the ship’s operator.

  • Missing persons or “man overboard”

Modern cruise ships are constructed in a manner that makes it difficult, but not impossible, for a passenger to be swept overboard. However, particularly in the presence of rough weather, it is still possible for passengers to lose their footing and then slide under railings or other devices that were installed to prevent such accidents.

Under international maritime law, the cruise ship is required to make every effort to locate and rescue anyone who may have been swept overboard, including contacting any other ships in the general area to request assistance. A failure to mount a diligent search and rescue operation can be considered a breach of that duty and could lead to a claim of liability of the part of the cruise ship’s operator.

  • Fire

A fire on board any ship, be it a merchant vessel or a passenger liner, is considered to be one of the gravest threats to the safety of the passengers and crew. In fact, a fire on board a cruise ship is sufficient to invoke the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (“it speaks for itself”). This doctrine holds that the mere fact that an incident occurred is sufficient to justify a claim of negligence on the part of the ship’s operator without further proof of a specific act of negligence.

Liability and international law

Although the cruise ship industry is regulated in much the same manner as is an airline or an international freight shipping company, most of the laws providing such regulation are contained in international treaties which any given country is free to ratify or reject as they see fit. Thus, most cruise lines are governed by international maritime laws in general and specific treaties that limit their liability in case of an accident. The most frequently cited of such treaties is the “Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974” or simply the “Athens Convention.”

Why you need an experienced Cruise Ship Accident Lawyer

The Athens Convention of 1974 and its later modifications places a limit or “cap” on the maximum amount that can be awarded if a cruise ship operator is found to have been negligent and a passenger was injured as a direct result of that negligence. The United States is not a signatory to the Athens Convention and, further, the courts in the United States have held that any cruise ship that makes a port of call in United States territory is subject to US laws rather than to an international treaty.

Due to the issues of jurisdiction over maritime law and liability, any passenger experiencing a cruise ship injury should contact a cruise ship injury lawyer as soon as they return home in order to protect their legal right to recover damages for their injury.

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