Cruising as a way of travel and for vacations has emerged in popularity in recent years. The cruise ship lines have become increasingly competitive with their fares and amenities. These large, floating cities have Las Vegas-style entertainment and top flight restaurants. Many ships are becoming more kid-friendly, too, so the whole family can take a vacation and visit foreign ports of call without having to do anything more than debark and return to the ship when the excursions are over.
However, most consumers do not take the time to read the contract for passage, which is commonly referred to as the cruise line ticket. This ticket contains valuable information that the customer/passenger must accept before going on a vacation aboard a cruise ship. There are waivers of liability, limitation of damages and other factors that a cruise passenger should consider before taking a cruise. For instance, most cruise lines have the limitation of liability on lost or damaged personal property in the amount of $5,000.
I once had a potential client contact me about the loss of personal property from his stateroom. He and his wife were very wealthy people from the mid-west and had more than $200,000 in jewelry go missing from their stateroom safe. Yes, you read that right, more than $200,000 in property went missing from their stateroom safe. They attempted to make a claim against the ship and were shocked to find out that the ship’s liability was limited to $5,000.
"How could this happen?" He asked me. The answer is that when you purchase a cruise line ticket, you are entering into a contract with the cruise line. The terms and conditions of the contract are enforceable and cannot be challenged. But there is no limitation to the sum of compensation under an injury or a death claim.
The place where a lawsuit must be brought with time limitations is established in the contract for passage. More often than not, the place the lawsuit must be brought is in Dade County, Florida, in the Federal Court System and must be brought within one year from the date of loss. This statute of limitations is much shorter than the statute of limitations for land-based injuries and deaths. I’ve had more than one unpleasant conversation with a potential client only to inform them that they waited too long to bring their claim, and there was nothing I, or any Florida maritime attorney could do to help them.
A cruise can be a very rewarding, fun and memorable experience. But it can also be very heartbreaking and damaging in the end if personal property or personal injury occurs aboard a ship, and the unwitting passenger hasn’t read the limitations of liability and damages prior to getting on board.
Moral of the story: read the contract for passage and all of its provisions. Pack accordingly, and be safe.