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Cruise Line Liability
for Injuries to Passengers
By: Dennis M. Seaman, Attorney

Dennis Seaman & Associates

Cruise lines promise fun and romance, and encourage drinking and partying. But what happens when one's dream vacation turns into his or her worst nightmare?

Many people vacation on cruise ships to find romance and intimacy in a new relationship or to rekindle the fire from a long time spousal relationship. These expectations along with heavy alcohol consumption and a party atmosphere contribute to a sexually charged environment resulting in many sexual assaults by crew members and passengers as well as negligent injuries and deaths.

A cruise line's profitability depends, on how much money is spent onboard. Alcohol sales provide the largest source of revenue. Also, the 15% gratuity for servers creates a financial incentive to keep the drinks flowing. Not surprisingly, most cruise related injuries, attacks, and deaths are alcohol related.

There are special laws that protect victims from both the criminal and negligent behavior of crews and passengers. For example, maritime law requires cruise lines to actively monitor alcohol consumption. They are required, by law, to avoid over serving passengers and to assist obviously intoxicated passengers who may present a danger to themselves or others.

Liability of cruise lines may even extend to onshore excursions. This is another leading source of cruise line revenue and may extend their legal obligations to passengers for injury or death caused by the intentional or negligent actions of the onshore tour operator's employees. Thus, the carrier is liable for auto accidents, drownings, slip and falls, and other mishaps occurring off the boat.

A victim of carrier or tour operator neglect or intentional wrongdoing must be very careful to protect his or her rights to compensation. Don't assume that local authorities in foreign countries will investigate with the same standards used in the United States. In countries where tourism is a major source of revenue, there may be corruption or a desire to suppress crime news in order to protect the cruise line and local economy.

If you have been victimized or damaged in a foreign country, report the incident to the local U.S. Embassy immediately. Be careful of early shipboard investigations, because the law provides privilege to the carrier for work product resulting from the same.

You must be aware and prepared. Many areas on board may be under continued video surveillance. These tapes, however, are usually recorded over within a couple of days. You should immediately demand in writing that the cruise line preserve such evidence. Obtain the signature of the captain or security person on a copy of your letter.

All cruise tickets are binding contracts. The cruise lines deceptively insert conditions that may successfully defeat a valid claim. For example, there may be contractual limitations on the back of the ticket that limit where and when a lawsuit must be filed. They often require short periods of time to notify the carrier of the event, which if not met, may forever extinguish the claim.

The carrier, its adjusters, and lawyers seldom settle hoping that the victim will not follow the contractual provisions and lose their rights to pursue their claim.

The cruise lines keep inserting language limiting passenger rights. A knowledgeable attorney should successfully defeat such attempts and make sure that the carrier cannot contract away liability for its negligent acts both on and off the ship.

If you feel that you have been injured as a result of a cruise line's intentional, recklessness or negligent action call me at (216) 696-1080 or (800) 593-1080 to determine if your claim has merit.

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