Cruise Lines and Negligence in Maritime and Admiralty Law

Carnival cruise line has recently been under intense media scrutiny, following an engine room fire that knocked out power and caused one of their vessels to float at sea for five days. Cruise ship vacations are a booming industry with an estimated 16 million passengers sailing onboard in 2011. The Port of Seattle in Washington State has seen over 800,000 passengers in each of the last five years. Supply is having a hard time keeping up with demand. The increasing amount of passenger vessels are matched by a growing number of accidents and injuries that occur as a result of the cruise line's or cruise line employees' negligence.

Under general maritime law, ships must provide their passengers with "reasonable care under the circumstances". Cruise ship tickets may successfully limit the jurisdiction or time to file a claim, but they cannot completely remove liability for negligence that stems from the actions of a crew member or the cruise company. (See Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1990) and Johnson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 802 F. Supp. 2d 1316, (S.D. Fla., 2011).)

In order to hold a cruise line liable for an injury, an injured passenger must show that the cruise line was negligent. In Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1070 (9th Cir. 2001) the court established that to recover for negligence, a plaintiff must establish:  (1) duty;  (2) breach;  (3) causation;  and (4) damages. In that case, the passenger filed a wrongful death action for her husband. The husband contracted pneumonia while on a trip from Athens to Bombay. Because of his prior history of heart disease, the ship's doctor recommended that he be taken to a land-based Intensive Care Unit either by docking at the nearest port or by helicopter evacuation.

The woman contacted medical care through their own insurer who sent a doctor that advised the couple to stay in Bombay, India instead of flying her husband to Singapore. The doctor provided inadequate care and services for the husband while the woman was assaulted and robbed at the hotel the insurance company arranged. The husband managed to improve at a facility, but ultimately died after a massive heart attack during a surgical procedure. The court, analyzing the wife's claims, stated that she failed to show that Princess cruise caused or could have caused her husband's complications that resulted in his death.

While the wife was unable to succeed in her claim against Princess, this case illustrates the main considerations of an injured passenger would have when trying to hold a cruise line liable for their negligence. Insured passengers must be sure they follow the limitations on filing a claim so that their negligence suit can move forward. Jurisdiction is generally limited to a few venues, including Washington.

If you have been injured while on a cruise, contact Washington cruise accident attorneys Merriam & Webb so they can act quickly on your claim to ensure you meet the time restrictions. With over 50 years of experience practicing maritime and admiralty law, they know the best way to pursue your personal injury claim. For a free consultation, contact us online or call 877.800.1007.

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