For individuals who have experienced injuries or incidents while traveling as a cruise passenger on a cruise ship, understanding the process of suing a cruise line is essential to seek legal recourse and obtain the compensation they deserve. At the Brais Law Firm, we are committed to providing comprehensive legal guidance and support for maritime cases, including those involving cruise line injuries. These claims take many forms but generally fall into two categories; negligence claims, where the cruise passengers must establish “notice” on the cruise line’s part, meaning the cruise line either knew or should have known of the existence of a dangerous or unsafe condition, or a strict liability claim in the case of a rape or sexual assault of a cruise passenger by a crew member.  To this end, here is a detailed roadmap for individuals seeking legal action against a cruise line, addressing the key steps, legal considerations, and potential challenges involved in the process.

Understanding Your Rights and Basis of a Passenger’s Claim

Before delving into the specifics of suing a cruise line, it is crucial to understand the rights and legal protections afforded to passengers. Cruise lines owe a duty of “reasonable care under the circumstances” to their passengers, which includes providing a reasonably safe and secure environment onboard the vessel and reasonably trained crewmembers. 

  • Direct Negligence Claim: A breach of reasonable care standard gives rise to a direct claim for what amounts to negligence of a cruise line generally in one of the more following categories: negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent training, negligent method of operation, negligent supervision, etc., with the common thread being that the shipowner/employer of the crew is being sued for what it did in a supervisory/managerial role. 
  • Indirect or Vicarious Negligence Claim:  Additionally and alternative to a direct claim, a cruise passenger may, under certain circumstances, bring a claim against a cruise line for the existence of an unsafe or dangerous condition created by a crewmember.  If it can be proven a crewmember breached an individual due of care to a passenger, then it is important to bring this cause of action because, under a vicarious claim, the cruise passenger need not establish the cruise line knew or should have known of the unsafe or dangerous condition ahead of time.  In short, a cruise line, in this instance, is being sued and potentially held liable for the negligent acts or misconduct of a crewmember.
  • Strict Liability Claim:  If a passenger is raped or sexually assaulted by a crewmember, a cruise line can be held strictly liable, meaning the passenger need only prove the rape or sexual assault occurred.  The cruise line can defend the claim in only two ways:  the incident never occurred, or, if it occurred, it was consensual.    

Examples of Breach of Reasonable Care

Common reasons for pursuing legal claims against cruise lines include:

  • Personal injuries resulting from slip and fall accidents, inadequate security, or medical negligence, including a failure to timely diagnose a medical condition or disembark a passenger for emergent medical care by deviating the ship to a closer port of call with adequate medical facilities or air-lift a passenger via helicopter
  • Assault, harassment, or other intentional or criminal acts committed onboard the cruise ship, either by a fellow passenger or crew member
  • Breach of duty in providing a safe environment, including food safety and sanitation issues
  • Injuries or harm caused by the negligence of the cruise line's employees or crew members, thereby creating unsafe or dangerous shipboard conditions

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

It is essential to be aware of the statute of limitations, which dictates the timeframe within which a lawsuit must be filed.  Generally speaking, the timeframe within which to file a lawsuit varies based on factors such as the nature of the claim, the terms of the ticket contract, and the jurisdiction where the lawsuit will be filed, whether in the U.S. or overseas say in the case the cruise was booked overseas and departed from a foreign port. Under maritime law, all claims involving cruise passengers must be filed within the three (3) statute of limitations (“SOL”) under General Maritime Law.  All cruise lines have for many years now shortened the three year SOL to one (1) year by inserting a time limitation clause within the ticket contract issued to each passenger. The mere acceptance of a ticket contract binds a cruise passenger, whether read or not read, to the terms and conditions of a ticket contract.  In addition to the one (1) year suit limitation, cruise lines now include a six (6) month “notice” condition, meaning a cruise passenger must provide written notice to a designated person or office with a cruise line within six (6) months of the shipboard event, failing which cruise lines typically assert the claim is untimely and should be dismissed.  Failing to adhere to the limitation and notice provisions found within a ticket contract can result in the forfeiture of the right to pursue legal action, making it crucial to act promptly and seek legal advice soon after any shipboard incident.

Jurisdiction and Choice of Forum

Another critical consideration when suing a cruise line is determining the appropriate venue (i.e., court) where any suit must be filed.  Cruise line ticket contracts also often include a Forum Selection Clause, which designates the ONLY court, whether it be state or federal court, and location of each court, i.e., Miami Federal Court, Brevard State Court, etc. Understanding these contractual terms and the implications is imperative to protecting a cruise passenger’s right to sue for shipboard or shore excursions injuries. In fact, Brais Law is routinely contacted by attorneys who have filed suit for a cruise passenger within the one-year provision but not in the appropriate venue.  Most unfortunately, the claim will still be considered untimely unless a judge will transfer the case to the proper court, which might only happen if a federal judge were to transfer a case to another federal judge.

Legal Procedures and Documentation

Initiating a legal claim against a cruise line involves legal procedures and documentation. This may include:

  • Filing a complaint outlining the duty owed, breach of the duty, causation between the breach and injuries suffered, and damages or injuries
  • Gathering evidence to support the claim, including medical records, witness statements, incident reports, and any relevant documentation
  • Engaging in the discovery process, which involves exchanging information, taking depositions, and retaining experts, both medical and liability, to prove up the prima facie elements of the claim
  • Negotiating potential settlements or pursuing the case through litigation, including court appearances and legal proceedings
  • Navigating the complexities of legal procedures and documentation requires the expertise of experienced maritime attorneys well-versed in cruise line litigation.

Seeking Legal Representation

Given the intricate nature of maritime law and the complexities involved in suing a cruise line, seeking legal representation from a qualified maritime attorney is crucial. An experienced maritime lawyer can provide invaluable guidance, advocate for the rights of the plaintiff, and navigate the intricacies of cruise line litigation with expertise and precision. This is particularly true of a Board Certified Maritime Attorney.

A Legacy of Results

At Brais Law, our seasoned attorneys specialize in cruise ship injury claims and have established a strong track record within the industry. With over 50 years of combined experience, we have diligently represented the best interests of passengers, crewmembers, dockworkers, and other maritime workers who have suffered injuries or harm while on sailboats, tugboats, yachts, and cruise ships. Since 2012, our firm has successfully facilitated the recovery of over $200 million in trial verdicts and settlements, including expected payouts to minors leading up to and upon reaching the age of majority. The cruise ship companies we have pursued legal action against include:

  • Azamara Cruise Lines
  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Costa Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Cunard Cruises
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Holland America Line
  • Island Queen Cruises
  • Mediterranean Shipping Cruises USA
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • P&O Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Pullmantur Cruises
  • Radisson Seven Seas Cruise
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Virgin Voyages
  • Windstar Cruises

Let Us Be Your Guide

Suing a cruise line requires a comprehensive understanding of maritime law, legal procedures, and the specific considerations involved in pursuing legal action against a naval entity. At the Brais Law Firm, we provide unwavering support and legal advocacy for individuals injured due to negligence or criminal conduct, such as sexual assault or rape victims. Our team of skilled maritime attorneys, led by Attorney Keith Brais, board-certified in Maritime and Admiralty Law by the Florida State Bar, possesses the knowledge and experience to guide clients through the complexities of cruise line litigation.

If you or a loved one has been injured while traveling on a cruise ship or off the ship during a shore excursion, do not hesitate to seek the legal representation and support you deserve. Contact Brais Law today to schedule a free consultation with a seasoned maritime attorney and take the first step towards seeking justice and obtaining rightful compensation.

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