Admiralty and Maritime Law

Cruise Ships

Watch this video about What To Do If You've Been Hurt on a Cruise Ship

What could be more relaxing than a cruise on a luxury liner? How about a cruise on a luxury liner that's not rammed by a 40-foot rogue wave, causing injury to passengers. Or a cruise that's not curtailed by an outbreak of Norovirus or Legionnaire's disease? Or one that's not, God forbid, hijacked by terrorists? Yes, all these things have happened to cruise ships, and you need to know what to do if something goes wrong on yours.

The Ticket Is A Contract

The ticket and the accompanying documentation govern the relationship between you and the cruise line. For that reason, you should read it very carefully. For one thing, it is going to state the length of time you have to sue the cruise line should something bad happen to you during the trip. You won't want to miss this contractual limitations period if it does.

Your cruise contract also will probably specify the place where you agree in advance to sue the cruise line if something goes wrong. This specification is critical. Waiting, and then suing in the wrong jurisdiction, which could be the wrong court type or in the wrong place, has caused some to miss the deadline to properly file a lawsuit at all.

These documents also are going to explain under what circumstances the cruise line may cancel the trip or change the itinerary, and what your rights are if it does.

You're Not in Kansas Anymore

When you take a cruise you are leaving the country in more than just the travel sense. In most cases the law that governs things that happen while you're aboard the ship is that of flag the vessel flies. If the ship is registered in Panama, Panamanian law applies. Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example, registers all of its ships in the Bahamas.

This is very important. The laws of foreign countries can be very different from those of the US. This can affect not just your rights, but also the procedures for enforcing them or getting compensation if you're injured or your property is damaged.

You Are an American

Of course you'll need your passport on any cruise that calls in foreign ports. You won't be let aboard without it. Bear in mind you are an American and in some places some people may consider you unwelcome. Keep a low profile, try not to look touristy. You can research clothing styles that allow you to blend in with the locals or at least with non-American tourists.

Your citizenship can come in handy if something untoward should happen. Contact the American embassy or consulate if it does. You may get invaluable advice or assistance in some cases.

Medical Concerns

The ship's doctor may look like the Love Boat's Dr. Bricker and may be just as nice. This does not mean he'll be competent to render critical medical assistance with the highest standard of care. In all likelihood the ship's doctor and its infirmary will be perfectly able to deal with typical, non-life threatening illness.

If however you have special medical needs or a chronic and potentially dangerous condition, like heart disease, you need to do some homework. Make inquiries into the ship's ability to take care of you and especially the qualifications of the medical staff. It would be helpful to know if the doctor is qualified in internal medicine or cardiology, or is instead perhaps a psychiatrist.

Personal Safety and Criminal Activity

Crimes do happen on board ship. They definitely happen in port calls. Take the same precautions on board as you would if you were staying in a hotel on land. Keep your cabin door closed and locked, both when you're away and when you're inside. Make sure you know who's outside before allowing them in.

Take the same care of your children or frail family members as you would in any strange environment. Your young kids must be supervised at all times. Older children should not go about alone.

Your cabin should have a safe. Use it to store any valuable items you don't want to keep with you all the time. Remember, the ship's staff will enter your cabin to clean it and change linens.

Look Out for Number One

The cruise line naturally is concerned for your safety and takes measures to see to it. The cruise line is also concerned for its reputation and legal liability and will take steps to protect itself if something does go wrong. The cruise line has lawyers and they will use whatever evidence they can gather against you to absolve the line of fault for your harm.

You'll have to act as your own investigator in the immediate aftermath of a mishap. Take down information needed to identify and contact witnesses. Take pictures of the scene or property damage. Don't hesitate to get advice. Contact your attorney immediately if you have one. It might be necessary to find an expert in the law of ships and the sea, known as admiralty law.

Perhaps you're thinking twice now about taking that cruise? Don't put it off for these reasons. Just remember that the same perils you face at home are present on a cruise. Knowing what to do just in case can give you some added peace of mind as you cast off.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What happens if I'm involved in an accident on board or in a port call, and someone sues me?
  • What do I do if I lose my passport overseas? How do I get home?
  • Are there any matters I should take care of at home before taking a cruise?
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