Sad woman holding her face

On August 21, 2018, a cruise passenger — identified as Jane Doe — filed a lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises and Canyon Ranch Spa alleging she was sexual assaulted by a crew member while traveling aboard the Celebrity Summit cruise ship (between New Jersey and Bermuda) just a year ago.

As alleged in the complaint and reported by media, Doe was approached by a crew member who claimed to work for the Canyon Ranch spa and who was offering complimentary massages.  Doe says that she was subsequently led to a spa room where she was forcibly and inappropriately touched by the same crew member. More specifically, it is alleged that the crew member fondled her breasts and vaginal area.  Doe says that she was able to escape the room before the massage progressed further.

In the complaint, Doe alleges that the Defendants were negligent in failing to perform an adequate background check. Had they done so, the danger posed by the crew member could have been discovered and the crew member, in the first place, would not have been hired. This is a common problem with hiring crew from third world countries or countries with limited infrastructure and criminal reporting procedures.  Despite this risk cruise lines continue to hire from these countries because of the advantages of cheap labor. In the alternative, Doe alleges the crew member assailant should have been supervised more closely, and had that been done he would have been terminated, thus avoiding risk of harm to cruise passengers.

It should be noted, however, that it is not necessary for Doe — or any other cruise ship passenger — to prove that the cruise line knew or should have known about the crew member’s alleged dangerous propensity to commit sexual misconduct.  In fact, cruise lines are strictly liable for intentional sexual misconduct committed by a crew member against a cruise ship passenger.  In the present case, Doe would be entitled to significant damages so long as she could prove that: 1) the crew member committed the alleged sexual acts, and 2) the situation was non-consensual.

Independent negligence in the form of negligent hiring, supervision and retention is not required to impose civil liability, but it can put additional pressure on the defendant(s) and give a sexual assault victim an advantage during settlement negotiations.  Further, depending on the egregiousness of such conduct — for example, if the cruise line was aware of prior sexual misconduct against cruise ship passengers and covered them up while retaining the crew member — the court may award punitive damages.

Cruise Lines Should Minimize the Risk of Sexual Misconduct

The alarming frequency of sexual assault and rape aboard cruise ships is an open secret in the industry. According to a recent report by the Department of Transportation, commercial cruise lines reported 76 separate incidents of alleged sexual assault in 2017 alone — a number that is itself likely to be significantly underreported.

Most cruise lines have been sued numerous times for negligently hiring crew members who have allegedly committed sexual assault against their passengers.  In some of these cases, the sexual misconduct was particularly aggressive and involved the crew member forcing the passenger into a confined space and raping them.  The response by the cruise line can be shocking to third-parties. It is not uncommon for crew to cover up the incident or even refuse to provide the passenger with a rape kit to preserve the evidence.

Though cruise lines are fully aware of the risk of sexual assault and rape, they often fail to take adequate measures to protect passengers.

In addition to negligent hiring (i.e., failing to properly vet crew members pursuant to a background check), cruise lines may expose passengers to risks by excessively serving alcohol, failing to provide sufficient onboard security, failing to install surveillance cameras around the vessel, failing to implement button-alarm systems and more.  Further, cruise lines may fail to provide the necessary tools — such as a rape kit or other sexual assault forensic tools — for preserving evidence that can be later used to prove that you were actually a victim of sexual assault or rape.

Let a Maritime Lawyer Advocate on Your Behalf

If you’ve been subjected to sexual assault or rape while traveling aboard a cruise ship, you may be entitled to bring an action against the defendant (and cruise line) for significant damages as compensation for various losses.  Cruise lines are well aware of the risks posed by the hiring of a crew member with a checkered criminal history, particularly one in which there are past allegations of sexual assault or rape.  Despite these risks, cruise lines often fail to adequately vet crew members, and many make extensive efforts to cover up instances of sexual misconduct when they do occur.

Here at Brais Law Firm, our attorneys have more than 80 years of combined experience representing clients in litigation relating to Maritime and Admiralty Law, including cases that involve cruise ship sexual misconduct.  We are a results-oriented firm and believe that our success in obtaining favorable verdicts and settlements for our clients is proof that our comprehensive, highly-experienced form of advocacy works.

Interested in scheduling a free consultation with an experienced maritime lawyer here at Brais Law Firm?  Call 1-800-499-0551 or complete an online form through our contact us page today.  We look forward to helping you hold cruise lines accountable for their damaging actions.

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