With the economy being what it is and people still interested in taking vacations, the cruise industry has taken off as an inexpensive alternative to traditional travel. Aside from the relative cost, the technology and size of the ships have made cruising very attractive for your average traveler. Twenty years ago these vessels were like small hotels, now they are like small cities. With the advent of technology and better design comes a presumably safer ship. Nevertheless, people do get injured on cruise ships and sometimes very seriously. Nothing can ruin a vacation on a cruise more than a significant personal injury.
Travelers can become injured aboard vessels for a variety of reasons not limited to slipping and falling in the buffet line, by the pool, down the stairs, or on a wet deck. Tripping and falling and slipping and falling are the most common forms of becoming injured aboard a cruise ship and can be avoided by keeping an eye out and wearing sensible foot wear. Notwithstanding, accidents do happen and travelers can become injured through no fault of their own and often times through negligence of the ship for failing to correct or warn of a known dangerous condition.
When a traveler’s cruise vacation has been cut short or ruined by an injury, often times they seek legal assistance in obtaining compensation for the ruined cruise and their injuries. In this instance, the traveler must be acutely aware of the limitations placed on the time to bring a lawsuit and the place the lawsuit can be brought. Typically, the cruise lines operate out of Miami and the ticket contains conditions that a lawsuit must be brought against the cruise line within one year of the date of the injury after appropriate warning has been given to the line and must be brought in federal court in Dade County, Florida. Other cruise lines have venue and jurisdiction restrictions limiting the lawsuits to be brought in California and Washington State. This area of the law is highly specialized and lawyers not familiar with the venue and time limitations placed upon the passenger commonly commit malpractice by failing to file the case in a timely fashion and in a jurisdiction required by the cruise line ticket. Lawyers have attempted to argue that these restrictions are unfair but the courts have routinely upheld these conditions as an arm’s length transaction between the cruise line and the passenger. Concurrently, the courts have discussed the necessity of having a uniform venue and time limitation against the cruise lines in order to keep operating costs in check for the cruise line industry.
Aside from becoming injured aboard a ship through a slip and fall accident or some other type of injury, passengers often feel they have been mistreated or misdiagnosed by the ships doctors and claim medical malpractice against the cruise line. However, these claims are not sustainable in a court of law under the current status of legislation and the law in the United States. Courts have decided that doctors are independent contractors of the cruise line and that the cruise lines are not responsible for the medical negligence of the doctor or the nursing staff. There appears to be an approaching shift in this thought process but until the courts take a firm stand in favor of medical malpractice being attributed to the carrier, the status of the law will require the passenger suffering from the medical negligence of the ship’s doctor to proceed directly against the doctor and staff.
Therefore, if a passenger is injured aboard a ship, the first thing they should look to after obtaining appropriate medical care is to the terms and conditions of the travel ticket contract for passage and hire an attorney who is well versed in the area of cruise line law. Otherwise, the passenger may lose valuable rights and possibly the ability to receive compensation which would lead to further insult to injury.