Celebrity cruise lines. Carnival cruise lines. Norwegian. Royal Caribbean. Princess. Holland America. We’ve all heard the names of these major cruise lines, but don’t get lulled into the popular belief that a big, beautiful cruise ship is always accident-free, or that it will protect your legal rights in the United States. If you get injured or sick on a cruise ship, you are at high risk – both medically and legally!
This is because the cruise ship doctor or medical staff may not be adequately trained to handle your particular problem; the ship may be registered in a foreign country and U.S. law may not apply; and the ship will not generally have an investigative staff to take any of the necessary steps to help you identify witnesses, gather evidence or protect your legal rights.
Most importantly, there will likely be a very short statute of limitations of one year, or perhaps even less time, to present your claim for injuries and damages – a deadline that many victims and their lawyers often overlook. Not uncommonly, your passenger ticket (or an online passenger contract) may include a series of deadlines in small print – a deadline to report an accident in writing, another deadline to file a lawsuit (the statute of limitations) which is very short, and third deadline in which to serve the lawsuit papers on the cruise ship company which may not be based in the United States.
To make things more complicated, some contracts stipulate what states or countries all lawsuits must be filed in, and what law governs the case. Some contracts even prevent lawsuits per se, requiring you to take the case to arbitration instead.
If you have suffered an injury aboard a cruise ship, take the following three steps immediately after you get on-board medical help:
- MEDICAL: Get to a proper medical facility off the ship and seek timely medical care and treatment for your condition;
- INVESTIGATIVE: Take pictures and make drawings of the accident scene; collect the names and contact information of witnesses (get full names and complete home addresses); demand to make a written report to the captain or his/her designated officer; demand to make a written report to the ship safety officer, and gather the full names and titles of all officers who witnessed the accident, spoke to you about the accident, or to whom you reported the accident (including captains, safety officers, deck officers, bosuns, security guards, carpenters and firefighters). Be sure to retain copies of all reports which you make, and keep them in a safe with your tickets and travel documents.
- LEGAL: Call the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick as soon as practicable. You can call us toll-free at 1-866-337-2900. Let us go to work for you even before your cruise ends (or as soon thereafter as possible).
At the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick, we are ready, willing and able to assist you with your cruise ship case. In most cases, this will entail a thorough understanding of contract law, negligence (tort) law and maritime law. The cruise ticket and travel documents will be treated as a contract of carriage which defines the rights, duties and liabilities of the parties to the contract (the ship owner and the passenger). Such “contracts” may contain terms like “Act of God” and clauses such as “force majeure” designed to free the cruise line of any responsibility under particular circumstances.
The contract may also state who can be sued, where they can be sued, and within what time limit. No case may exist unless you can establish “negligence” by the cruise operator or other responsible parties.
Negligence is very fact-sensitive, and thus it is important to gather as much evidence as possible from witnesses, photographs and other sources. In some cases, questions of liability, jurisdiction and limitations on damages are governed by maritime law which deals with injuries that occur on the seas and oceans.
How the Cruise Line Tries to Get Off the Hook
One of the first things the cruise line operator does to avoid liability is to include language on the passenger ticket stating that the cruise line is not responsible for on-board concessions such as the gift shops, spa, beauty salon, fitness center, golf and art programs, video and snorkel concession. By defining these operations as “independent contractors,” the ship owner attempts to avoid liability for mishaps relating to these concessions.
Thus, the ship’s masseuse, barber, hair dresser, manicurist, fitness or golf instructor, videographer, art auctioneer, gift shop personnel, wedding planners or other providers of personal services are treated as employees of independent contractors and the cruise line will deny responsibility for any of their actions.
Many tickets also explicitly state that the cruise line shall have no liability as a consequence of a passenger’s use of the ship’s athletic or recreational equipment or as a consequence of their decision to participate in any athletic or recreational activity or event.
What If the Ship Doctor Makes a Mistake?
Remarkably, many cruise ships even attempt to avoid liability for the conduct of their doctors and nurses. When you have an emergency and require the assistance of a medical professional, that physician or nurse may be regarded by cruise ship as an outside contractor not under the ship’s control – thus, avoiding liability for any malpractice by the medical staff.
If you have received medical care on a cruise ship, be sure to obtain a business card from every medical provider who treats you, or ask for the full name and title of the medical provider, along with her or her contact information.
If you believe that your injuries or illness was not properly or timely treated by a ship doctor or nurse, you may have a claim for medical malpractice.
We Are Licensed and Certified to Handle These Cases
The majority of cruise ship cases are handled in Miami, Florida. This is because most U.S. cruise ships depart from Florida, and because the passenger ticket contains clauses addressing jurisdiction, venue and governing law in the State of Florida. In many cases, the cruise ticket requires the passenger to submit his claim to “binding arbitration,” which means that the case cannot go to court.
In other cases, an injury victim may file the case in the federal court in Miami (Dade County), which is known as the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Mark S. Guralnick has been licensed to practice law in Florida for more than 30 years. With offices in Miami, the Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick is familiar with local judicial and arbitration procedures pertaining to cruise ship cases.
For cruise passengers injured on international cruises, Mark S. Guralnick provides an additional layer of expertise: He is also a board certified specialist in international law. He was board-certified in this specialty by the Florida Supreme Court and was among the first class of Florida lawyers ever to be certified in this legal specialty.
Mr. Guralnick himself is an active member of the Dade County Bar Association, has been certified as a federal arbitrator, and has been admitted as a member of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Please call Mark S. Guralnick if you or a loved one has been injured in a cruise ship accident.