Granted, cruising ships have come a long way since the days of the Titanic. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any risks associated with cruising the high seas. Yes, the ships and technology are far safer, therefore the type of danger is different. But there is still the occasional ship found floating adrift at sea or capsizing that happens. These are rare, so we are going to look at the more likely scenario of onboard accidents and the resultant legal and insurance issues.
Cruise ships are basically floating hotels but with much more complexity in many systems, operations and personnel. Keeping the massive vessels fully operational is a 24 hour a day job for thousands aboard a contemporary ship. Not surprisingly, many of the accidents we see are similar to what happens at hotels or even your home.
Some of the most common accidents are slipping and falling, objects falling on passengers when the ship is rocking, dock accidents and falling overboard. The causes of these accidents are just as varied. It could be from rough seas, negligence by the ship owners and operators, or intoxication. Whatever the reason, if there is injury involved, the law will cause the matter to take a certain course.
In the event of injury from an onboard accident, it’s up to the passenger to establish that ship’s crew knew or should have known of any safety issues regarding the ship. Ship owners & operators have a legal duty to identify safety concerns (hazards) for their passengers and to warn the passengers of it and repair or replace the defective/hazardous condition within a cautious period of time.
If the ship is operating in non-navigable US waterways, the cruise company has an extra responsibility to provide passengers a safe environment. This even includes incidents involving other people, which we refer to as “third party incidents” such as theft, physical and sexual assault. Therefore, the cruising ships are obligated to provide proper security and protection for passengers. If there is a breach in any of these links, then the passenger has much better chance of receiving compensation in the event of a criminal act or accident. This even includes illness because of poor hygiene on the ship.
Time is of the essence
One thing to remember here is that cruise ships have all sorts of provisions put in their tickets. Obviously, they do this to protect themselves, not you. One of the biggest ones is the time frame a passenger has to put cruising ships on notice for a claim. This is why it is imperative you consult a lawyer in the event of an accident. Do so at your earliest opportunity.
Also, claims against the cruise line must be filed in a specific jurisdiction (city) where it will most often be subject to arbitration. That’s right. You board a ship in the states, a bad mishap happens at sea, with injuries, and the claim will possibly tried somewhere else? Yep, that happens in many cases, though there are exceptions worthy of consideration. This is one reason it is important to have your own local attorney evaluate your situation. On more than several occasions, I have handled the local needs of a cruise injury case and hired counsel to handle the claim in the city where the claim was tried. This costs the client no more in fee or expense as both counsel agree to share in the one agreed price or % of the recovery.
Staying out of Trouble
Avoiding mishaps and accidents on cruising ships can be daunting. The ship is a foreign environment. It is so large that passengers can be lulled into a false sense of security. Don’t let that happen to you! Watch everywhere you walk. There are hidden dangers onboard ships. As an example, one recent claim involved a client who tripped on carpeted stairs. The carpeting failed to change pattern at the bottom step to differentiate the landing and the bottom step My client was unaware of the landing and suffered a substantial injury.
Children under the age of 18 are the most prone to get injured on ships. Therefore, lay down strict rules if traveling with them and always know their whereabouts.
Don’t try any especially risky physical activity you have not done before. That means if you have never climbed before, the rock climbing wall may just have to wait.
I have also handled claims involving passengers who were sexually assaulted by crew members. Also, I have seen a variety of claims dealing with passengers who were not instructed that the ship was going to hit rough water. Very rough water. There is also the occasional docking debacle accident where passengers are subject to pretty severe jolts which cause injuries.
What to do when you suffer injury
Report it to the nearest crew member. Be sure to get the crew members name and those of each crew member you interact with along the way as there will customarily be several crew members who are there purportedly there to help. Note their country of origin if on their name badge sand title.
Get a copy of any document you are asked to sign as there will be one – or several- on which you are asked to explain what happened. On the forms be sure to note what caused the injury: you didn’t simply “trip” if the fall was caused by a misaligned deck plate. Something like, “I could not see the deck plate misalignment as it looked like the plate was one continuous sheet. My foot caught the edge of this camouflaged plate lip. ”
Get medical care promptly even if you think you will be fine. This is something most civilians don’t think about. Prompt medical care can avoid the bad effects of infection and bacteria found on many ships. Again, the ship is not simply a large floating hotel. It traveled the world with fellow passengers and crew from around the globe. The ship will have onboard medical personnel, usually including a physician and nurses with varying levels of experience and skill. Get the best care they can provide.
Keep track of what you are doing and not doing. Did you pay for excursions? Miss meals, other onboard activities, get stuck in the cabin for hours or days. Journal these events. Trust me when I tell you much of these experiences will not be recalled if you miss the chance to write it down when it happens.
Get witness names, numbers, and addresses. Some cruisers think they can later get this info from the ship later. This is very difficult and the ship will fight at ever giving you and your attorney any information, frequently requiring counsel to make expensive time-consuming motions.
If you have the ship travel insurance take the time to promptly file a claim and get your payments together so as to provide them to the insurance company for travel insurance.