A cruise sounds like a relaxing vacation: Everything is taken care of for you, all the amenities you could ask for are just a few steps away, and you find exotic ports-of-call and shore excursions every day. Unfortunately, your cruise may not always go off without incident. Injuries suffered while on a cruise ship don’t just put a damper on your vacation. They may also continue to hurt you long after you return home. What do you need to know about your legal rights after you get injured on a cruise ship?
1. A Very Different Law Can Apply
Cruise ships sail, dock, and anchor on navigable waters and the high seas. For that reason, lawsuits arising from something that happened on or in connection with a cruise are subject to a body of law known as “maritime law,” which consists of statutes, regulations, treaties, and a collection of legal principles that have evolved over hundreds of years of seafaring (confusingly referred to as “admiralty law”).
When you set foot on a cruise ship, and possibly when you step off of a cruise ship for a shore excursion, maritime law will address any injury you sustain, not the law of the state or country you sailed from, are sailing to, or (for the most part) whose shore the ship is passing closest by. These laws can differ substantially from the laws you may know back home. They involve different time periods for filing suits, varying standards of conduct, and potential limitations on damages.
Anytime you have suffered an injury or lost a loved one in an accident on or connected with a cruise, hire a lawyer who is familiar with maritime law principles and practice.
Note also that the laws that apply to crew members (seamen) and other maritime workers (longshoremen and harbor workers) who suffer personal injuries on a ship can be very different from those that apply to passengers. This article only discusses injuries to passengers.
2. Negligence Still Leads to Liability (and so Do Some Statutes)
One aspect of maritime law that is similar to the law governing injuries on land is the concept of negligence. Ship owners, operators, and crew members owe anyone aboard a cruise ship as an authorized passenger a duty of care to keep them reasonably safe from injury. If the owner, operator, or crew member breaches this duty, and the passenger gets injured as a result and incurs damages, the owner/operator/crew member may bear liability for those injuries. So, for example, if you slipped on a wet staircase that someone forgot to mop up, or a deck chair flies into you because a crew member failed to secure it properly in windy conditions, you may have the right to recover compensation for your injuries.
In addition, two federal statutes impose liability on owners and operators of cruise ships for personal injuries resulting from a failure to comply with standards or because of a known defect, and on certain individual crew members personally in the event of their negligence or willful misconduct, or failure to obey navigation laws.
3. But Shipowners Can Impose Limitations on Actions
As a passenger on a cruise ship, you should know that the fine print on your ticket isn’t just gibberish you can ignore. Although a ship owner can’t limit its liability for personal injuries its (or its crew’s) negligence cause you, it can impose some extremely important limitations on you. For example, even though the statute of limitations for a maritime personal injury claim is three years, a ship owner can reduce that time period to one year, and can require you to give notice of a personal injury claim within six months. A ship owner can also limit its liability to you for specific types of emotional distress and mental suffering, and for theft and loss of property. To understand whether your cruise operator imposed these limitations in your case and to avoid losing your rights, speak with an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer right away.
4. So Watch What You Say and Do...
Whether in writing or when speaking aloud, your words can leave a serious impact on your legal rights to recover damages after suffering an injury on a cruise ship. When an injury occurs on a cruise, especially when the ship is out of port, you will likely have no choice but to interact with cruise ship employees and tell them about your accident. In doing so, make sure that you:
- Don’t accept fault. “Oh, I’m so clumsy! These things happen to me all the time!” “I shouldn’t have run on the deck. It’s my own fault!” These sentences seem innocent enough at the time, especially with a crew member hovering over you, checking to see if you’re okay. Embarrassment may lead you to speak quickly in an effort to shift attention from your accident. If possible, however, avoid making any statement that could imply you are at fault. Any admission like that can act against you if you attempt to seek compensation later.
- Limit your social media posts. You want to share the news about your trip with all your family and friends—including, possibly, the story of how you were injured. Avoid posting about your accident on social media or posting information that taken out of context could indicate you did not sustain an injury. Unfortunately, that may mean holding off on posting smiling selfies from the deck of the ship after your injury.
- See a doctor you can trust. Is there a doctor on your ship? Probably. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll get high-quality medical care. As soon as you return to a port where you have confidence in available medical providers, go see one to make sure you receive proper treatment and, if you haven’t, to document the nature and extent of your injuries. This may prove very important in a later lawsuit.
5. Speak With an Experienced Maritime Lawyer as Soon as Possible
You find getting in touch with a lawyer while you are aboard your cruise ship difficult. But, as soon as you return to shore, seek the advice of an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer. The time limitations most cruise lines build into their passenger contracts, and the complications inherent in pursuing a maritime claim, add up to you having no time to lose. The sooner you can speak with a knowledgeable lawyer, the greater the likelihood you can recover the compensation you deserve for your cruise ship injuries.
You Need a Lawyer for Your Cruise Ship Accidents
If you were injured on a cruise ship, you will need skilled, experienced legal advice if you want to take legal action for damages. Contact The Law Offices of Ivan M. Diamond today at (718) 588-2000 to schedule a free consultation.