Cruise vacations are supposed to be relaxing and fun. You buy your ticket and pack your bags, board the ship, and from there everything else is arranged for you. Delicious meals, fun in the sun, and exciting excursions are planned for the next three to seven days.

But many people don’t think about the dark side of cruising law, when something goes wrong while you’re on vacation. In fact, cruise ships present most of the same dangers you’d encounter on land, plus several new ones due to the fact that you’re isolated on a giant boat in the middle of the water. From overboard disappearances to freak accidents during excursions, in some ways cruises offer just as many ways for something to go wrong as they do opportunities for the perfect Instagram shot.


If you’re planning your next cruise or recovering from something that went wrong on your last one, here’s the important information you need to understand about a potential personal injury claim for a cruise ship accident.

What do cruise ship owners owe passengers?

The law that applies to cruise ship claims is inherently very complex because it depends on many different factors. In general, maritime law applies while the ship is navigating a body of water and US law will apply while the ship is still in port, but there are several exceptions to this rule.

Regardless of what type of law applies, a ship owner is not strictly liable for all injuries that occur while on a cruise. Instead, it can generally be said that a cruise ship owner owes passengers the duty to make efforts to prevent the types of ship accidents that a reasonably careful ship owner could anticipate. In other words, injured passengers have to prove negligence. This means that owners should take care to minimize slipping and tripping hazards. They also have a duty to keep the cruise ship safe and secure by installing cameras, lights, and other security features.

When someone is making a personal injury claim, proving that a cruise owner was negligent can be as simple as showing that the owner didn’t follow existing regulations, such as the Cruise Ship Safety Act of 2010, which requires all railings to be 42 inches tall. In other cases, injured passengers may need to gather photographs, witness accounts, and perhaps even expert testimony showing that the actions of the ship owner were unreasonable and therefore negligent.

Common Types of Cruise Accidents

Cruise ship injuries can take many forms and may not necessarily always be an accident on ship. Here are some of the most common types of cruise ship accidents.

Slip or trip and falls. These accidents can happen more often in rough water. Ship captains should take care to warn passengers when rough waters are expected.

Falling objects. Pictures can go a long way towards proving that the object was not safely installed on the boat.

Injuries caused by ship employes. Whether intentional or accidental, a ship owner is more likely to be held liable for the actions of its employees than other types of cruise accidents.

Dock accidents. These injuries can be more complex than others due to the issue of what law applies when the ship is docked at different ports.

Swimming pool or slide accidents. For example, diving into a shallow pool can cause serious injury and a ship owner may be negligent if the pool did not contain clear “no diving” warnings.

Accidents while on excursions. As we discuss below, these can be difficult to prove due to the blanket waivers passengers are usually required to sign to participate.

Medical malpractice. Although there are health professionals on all cruise ships, they are not emergency room departments equipped to handle everything. Moreover, because medical professionals are usually classified as independent contractors and not employees, this can make recovering for a personal injury particularly difficult.

Hot Tip: Travel insurance is always a good idea. Many people do not realize that common medical conditions, such as a ruptured appendix, cannot be treated on ship and may require costly evacuation for treatment.

Navigational errors and crashes. These can be the fault of the ship captain, or another vessel, for example one driven by a boat owner who was drinking. In these circumstances, passengers will often have to prove that the accident could have been avoided if safety measures had been taken.

Assault. It’s unfortunate to admit, but assaults on cruise ships are more common than people realize. Difficult issues of proving who committed the assault can make these claims hard to prove.

Falls overboard. In these cases, a court will examine a number of factors. Sometimes intoxication is to blame, but in other cases a failure to warn passengers of rough waters can make a shipowner liable. If a passenger does fall overboard, ship owners have a duty to institute search and rescue and a failure to make reasonable efforts can lead to liability.

Why do cruise ship accidents differ from other personal injury claims?

There are several quirks about cruise ships that make these claims very different from other accidents. Earlier, we mentioned that it isn’t always immediately clear which law will apply, depending on where the accident happened and what caused the injury.

Another big difference in cruise ship claims is the contract passengers sign when they purchase a ticket. These contracts may contain provisions that limit or otherwise affect your right to recover if injured.

Forum Selection Clauses. These provisions mean that a passenger agrees that his or her claim will be handled in a particular forum, or state. For cruises, the state is usually Florida if that’s where the cruise originated. This can be especially difficult for passengers who travel across the country to board a cruise.

Hot Tip: Although courts usually uphold these clauses as reasonable parts of the contract, some passengers have had luck challenging them. The basis: companies did not receive the contract in time to cancel their ticket without a cancellation fee. This is because both parties to a contract must have time to review it and agree to it.

Notice Requirements. Maritime law allows three years to make a personal injury claim and most US states allow at least one year. However, notice requirements in a cruise ship contract may reduce that time to as little as 180 days to at least give the ship owner notice you will be making a claim. This is one reason a person injured on a cruise should investigate their rights immediately.

Blanket Waivers. These provisions mean a passengers is waiving any claim he or she has, before an injury even occurs. Often blanket waivers accompany those exciting excursions offered on cruise ships, so the cruise ship owner is protected from liability. This is another reason it’s important to read what you are signing.

Choice of Law Clauses. This part of the contract means the parties agree that a particular law will apply, usually Florida if the cruise originates there. Sometimes this means that passengers are agreeing that the law that will apply to their claim is not as favorable as other options that may have been available.

These factors combine to make cruise ship accidents more complex and difficult to navigate than other personal injuries. If you think you have a cruise ship claim, it’s a good idea to contact a maritime accident lawyer quickly so to help you understand your rights.

Were you injured in a cruise ship accident?

If you were injured during a cruise, contact us for a free case evaluation. We work on a contingency-fee basis. You may be eligible to file a claim for medical costs, emotional distress and further damages. Fill out our free case evaluation form to see if you are eligible for a claim. An experienced cruise ship injury lawyer at Morris Bart will assist you in the evaluation process. Initial consultations are free. Call us at 1-800-537-8185 today.

January 13, 2020 | Categories: Legal Tips, Personal Injury, Safety Tips |