Liability for Passengers Injured Aboard a Cruise Ship

Passengers injured aboard a cruise ship may have the right to hold it responsible for their injuries.

If you get injured on a cruise ship, you must be able to prove that the cruise ship was negligent in some manner in order to be able to recover damages from the cruise line. The fact that you got hurt or had an accident does not mean that the cruise line was at fault or negligent. Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. This means that you and your lawyer must be able to prove that the cruise line failed to act with reasonable care, and that, as a result of the cruise line’s actions or inactions, you got hurt.

Examples of Negligence on a Cruise Ship

Many cruise ship injuries involve a slip or trip and fall. Different types of falls that can happen on a cruise ship include the following:

  • falling down a staircase
  • slipping and falling on a deck
  • tripping over a threshold

Additionally, assaults or other intentional acts by crewmembers may fall under the umbrella of cruise ship negligence.

Staircase Liability

Sometimes people who fell down the stairs don’t know why they fell. They think that it was just an accident. But staircases can be unsafe in many different ways, in ways that people don’t even notice. For example, these factors, among others, can contribute to someone slipping and falling down a set of stairs on a cruise ship:

  • water or some other foreign substance on the stairs
  • lack of handrails
  • poorly designed handrails
  • the handrails curve away from the stairs at the bottom of the stairs
  • risers (the height of each step) are the wrong height or are of varying heights
  • the steps are too shallow

If you fall down some stairs on a cruise ship and injure yourself, you should not automatically assume that it was just an accident. An accident lawyer can hire a naval architect or safety expert to investigate and measure the stairs to see whether the stairs conform to safe ship design practices. For more on staircase injury liability in general, see this overview.

Slipping on the Deck

Similarly, just because you slipped and fell on a ship’s deck does not mean that it was a freak accident, or that it was your fault. If there was water on the deck, why and how did the water get there? What was the deck surface? Was it unreasonably slippery? Certain types of surfaces do not get overly slippery when wet, but other types of surfaces do. The cruise line has a duty to make the decks reasonably safe. This means that it must safeguard the decks against all reasonably potential hazards. Thus, the cruise line might be negligent for using a surface that gets very slippery when wet in an area that it should have known will often be wet (like near a pool or hot tub). Proving injury liability for a slippery floor accident involves a lot of investigation and evidence to put the story together effectively.

Tripping over a Threshold

Cruise ships, like any ship, have lots of thresholds in their doorways. While thresholds are tripping hazards, federal and international shipping law requires thresholds in certain locations in order to keep the interior of a ship watertight. Because thresholds are mandatory, a cruise ship cannot be negligent for having them as a design feature. But cruise ships can be negligent for failing to give their passengers proper warning of a threshold. Most cruise ship passengers are not particularly familiar with ships, and do not expect thresholds in many different locations. If you trip over a threshold on a cruise ship, you should look around and see if there were any warning signs and stickers on the wall, the door, and/or the floor near the threshold. Lack of proper warnings of a threshold can constitute negligence.

Assault by the Crew

Unfortunately, physical or sexual assaults by a crew member on a cruise passenger are not unheard of. While assaults are intentional (not negligent) actions, the cruise line is legally responsible for the conduct of its crew members. Moreover, assault is a crime. If you are assaulted by a crew member on a cruise ship, you should report it to the cruise ship and to the police as soon as possible.

Exceptions – When The Cruise Line May Not Be Legally Responsible For Your Injury

While the cruise line is responsible for its own negligence and the negligence of its employees, it is not always legally responsible for the negligence of independent contractors connected with the cruise. For example, the cruise ship may not be liable for injuries that you received during a shore excursion. Even if you sign up for a shore excursion with the cruise ship or on the cruise line’s website, the shore excursion may be conducted by a separate company. The cruise line’s ticket may specifically state that the cruise line is not responsible for the negligence of companies that operate shore excursions.

The cruise lines also may not always be legally responsible for the medical negligence of their doctors and nurses in the ships’ hospitals. The medical staff may be considered to be independent contractors, not employees of the cruise line. If they are considered to be independent contractors, the cruise line may be able to escape liability for the negligence of its medical staff. This means that, if you believe that the ship’s medical staff was negligent, you would have sue the staff member directly.

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