Recent Drowning on Carnival Cruise Ship Raises Questions of Cruise Line Liability under Maritime Law

A four-day Caribbean cruise ended in tragedy recently when a six-year old boy drowned in one of the pools on the ship, Victory. The accident happened in the late afternoon on the last day of the cruise while the ship was at sea. A DJ brought attention to the boy in the pool; while CPR was performed immediately after he was pulled out, officials declared him dead soon after. Following the incident spokesmen from Carnival Cruise line and the Cruise Lines International Association emphasized that there is no industry policy requiring lifeguards to be on duty at pools, similar to land-based hotels and swimming pools. Cruise ships are only required to provide signs that are noticeable and obvious to alert passengers that no lifeguards are provided.

In 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case originating from the Western District of Washington, asking whether the cruise ship company, Holland America Cruise Lines, owed a duty to warn about hazardous conditions at Lover's Beach. In this case, the passenger decided to go to a public beach after asking cruise ship staff about shore activities. The beach near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is at the tip of the Baja peninsula where the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean meet. The undercurrent pulled the passenger underneath the water where he banged his head and suffered from severe neurological problems. This beach also did not have lifeguards on duty, and did not have any warning signs about possible dangers.

The court in this case looked at several maritime law legal precedents in their assessment of the injured passenger's appeal. When personal injury occurs on a ship, the injured passenger must show that the ship owed a duty, there was a breach of the duty, the breach of the duty caused the injury, and the amount of damages that were incurred. (See Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc. 236 F.3d 1061, 1070 (9th Cir. 2001)). Maritime law has also held that cruise ships owe an ordinary negligence duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. The degree of this care depends on the extent to which circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different from those encountered in daily life and involve more danger to the passenger. (See Rainey v. Paquet Cruises, Inc., 709 F.2d 169, 172 (2d Cir. 1983). Taking these decisions into consideration, the court in this case hinged its decision on the fact that going to the public beach in Cabo San Lucas was not uniquely associated with maritime travel. The court also determined that there was no history of problems at this location that the cruise line should have been aware of, which would have created a duty to at least warn passengers of the known dangers.

Samuels v. Holland American Line is instructive on how maritime courts would view a claim that involves pools or water activities on and off the ship. The Washington Pool and Water Slide Injury attorneys, John Merriam & Gordon Webb, are experienced maritime lawyers who understand what it takes to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. They know it is important to hold the cruise ship companies accountable for failing to provide reasonable care for their passengers. If you have been injured on a cruise ship, contact our office at 877.800.1007.

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