What You Don’t Know About The Dangers Of Cruise Line Excursions

 In Maritime Law

cruiselinerCruising is often a great way to get away and relax. These vacations can be fun for the whole family, and they offer a chance to see different parts of the world, including private islands. This is accomplished via the cruise line excursion. The cruise line industry offers these excursions to its passengers as a way for them to get off the ship to experience different countries and adventures. Passengers are offered the opportunity to do things like parasailing, renting scooters and take sightseeing tours.  The cruise line offers these excursions through third-party vendors on the islands and oftentimes receive a percentage of the fee they charge. For example, if the cruise line recommends a parasailing vendor, they may receive a percentage of the fee charged to the passenger, such as 60% to the vendor and 40% to the cruise line. While these excursions can be fun and exciting, they can also go horribly wrong and cause injury or even death.

A ship owner’s liability to non-maritime persons has been held to not be limited to the confines of the ship. In the case of Gillmor v. Caribbean Cruise Line Ltd., a passenger on a Royal Caribbean Cruise asked a crew member where he could get a newspaper while the ship was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The crew member directed the man to the pier area where the passenger was robbed and stabbed. All this happened no further than 50 feet from the ship. The court held that the vessel owner is liable for damages if a crew member either knew, or should have known, that there was a high probability of criminal activity in the area adjacent to the vessel’s moorage and failed to warn the passengers of the danger. 

Another cruise excursion that ended terribly for passengers involved a bus accident. Royal Caribbean hired an open-air bus in St. Thomas to tour the island. The bus lost control and went down an embankment. Eleven passengers were transported to the hospital with one being seriously injured.  Shipboard material described the trip as the “best of St. Thomas and shopping shore excursion.”

In July of 2010, a 14 year-old girl was shot and killed while on an open-air bus. This case involved a Carnival excursion, again, on the island of St. Thomas. The bus in question was driving through an area of the island well known to be dangerous when the bus was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs.  At the time of the excursion, the murder rate on the island was 42 for the year in a population of only 100,000. 

Cruising is big business. 

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, it is forecasted that there will be more than 21.7 million cruise passengers in 2014.  The 2014 global cruise ship fleet is made up of 410 ships with 467,629 beds. Despite the recent creation of the Passenger Bill of Rights (the cruise industry’s attempt to emphasize responsiveness and safety), the cruise lines still have very restrictive and industry favorable clauses in their passenger ticket contracts. These clauses include waiver of class actions, forum selection clauses and one-year statute of limitations.

Ship owners owe passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. This duty extends to passengers even if they are not onboard the vessel at the time of injury. The duty of reasonable care includes a duty to warn passengers of dangers not apparent and obvious. Also, this duty to warn extends beyond the port to places where passengers are invited to or reasonably may be expected to visit and includes liability for intervening criminal acts in areas where passengers may go if the acts were foreseeable.  Generally, this standard of reasonable care requires that the cruise line have actual or constructive knowledge of the risk creating condition. In the context of excursion cases, actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition is proven through the existence of prior similar incidents, such as prior incidents of crime against passengers while at port.

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

In July of 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA).  The Act was designed to improve vessel security and safety based upon findings by Congress that “passengers on cruise vessels have an inadequate appreciation of their potential vulnerability to crime while on ocean voyages, and those who may be victimized lack the information they need to understand their legal rights or to know who to contact for help in the immediate aftermath of the crime.”  The CVSSA also requires the reporting of crime statistics on the US Coast Guard website.  However, the Act only requires the cruise lines to report matters that are no longer under investigation by the FBI.  This means that actual crime numbers are vastly underreported. 

While 46 USC §30509 prohibits a ship owner from requiring a passenger to release it from liability (by signing a waiver/release) for personal injury or death caused by the parasailingnegligence of the vessel or its crew or to give up the right to a jury trial, the cruise industry has found a loophole around this.  The statute is only applicable to cruises that include at least one US port.  Therefore, if your cruise does not have a US stop in its itinerary, be careful and read waivers/releases as they may be binding. 

Excursion Important Issues to Establish Negligence & Case Jurisdiction

Excursion cases are difficult and complicated. Oftentimes, these excursions are not run by the cruise line themselves and they claim they are not responsible for the acts or omissions of these vendors.  Also, US Courts often lack jurisdiction over these vendors.  One way to achieve jurisdiction over these vendors and the cruise line is to prove the excursion was a joint venture between the two companies.  Another way to properly establish negligence on the cruise line is to focus on some important issues such as:

  1. Did the cruise line properly vet the tour/excursion operator?
  2. Did the cruise line properly monitor the activities of the tour/excursion operator?
  3. Did the cruise line make negligent misrepresentations about the tour/excursion operator?
  4. Did the cruise line warn its passengers of the risks?

Having an experienced maritime attorney that knows how to navigate these complex issues is important in order to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. The LaBovick Law Group has a team of attorneys that practice in the areas of maritime and admiralty personal injury.  If you have been injured on an excursion, call us today for a free consultation.  

Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by  franky242 and  Arvind Balaraman

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