Offshore Passenger Injuries

Injuries on Cruises, Yachts, and More

By Armstrong & Lee

July 20, 2018Injuries can happen to anyone especially while at sea. General maritime law covers injuries that occur on a vessel, the high seas, offshore, or at a port to anyone not employed in the admiralty industry including passengers, guests, and visitors. This post discusses some of the legal issues relating to passengers who are injured on an offshore vessel like a cruise ship.

Who Is Responsible?

There are a number of federal statutes that explain what a vessel owner or operator must do to keep anyone on their vessel safe. However, unlike seamen or longshoremen, passengers do not have different statues which provide for specific remedies.  Passengers are able to sue any party including the ship itself if the employees on the vessel were negligent.  Filing a claim against the ship itself is considered an in rem proceeding, which means that the property (in this case, the ship) is attached to the suit as if it was a person. Connecting property to a lawsuit in this manner forces the property’s owner into court to protect his property.  The in rem attachment process is convenient when the ship is in a state when the owner is not.  A passenger can initiate a suit in whatever state the boat is in, even if the owner has never set foot in that state personally.

Different courts have different jurisdiction to hear an admiralty case. Two considerations to remember when deciding whether to bring an in rem proceeding is that plaintiff’s can only bring in rem cases in federal admiralty courts, and the plaintiff can only collect the value of the ship after its sale.

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Negligence Claims

There are two general maritime law claims which a passenger can bring against any party.  The first is negligence. The elements of a general maritime law negligence claim are the same as any state law personal injury negligence claim: (1) There must be a duty of care, (2) that duty must have been breached, (3) the breach must have actually and proximately caused the damages, (4) and the losses must be able to be given a dollar value.

Vessel owners or operators owe various duties of care to their passengers.

  1. First, they must provide a reasonable amount of security against physical harm, including harm from other passengers or criminal activity.
  2. Second, the owners and operators must ensure the ship and its equipment are seaworthy and in reasonable working condition.
  3. Finally, they must make sure the ship’s crew is adequately trained to perform their assigned tasks.

As a passenger, if you are injured on a ship because the vessel owners or operators failed to meet with these duties, then you would have a valid cause of action to bring to court.

Product Liability Claims

The second general maritime law claim which a passenger can bring would be a products liability claim.  Plaintiffs can bring admiralty products liability claims against the vessel in rem or against any other person or company.  A personal injury products liability claim is available to passengers when they are injured on a ship because the ship or its equipment was defective and that it came from the manufacturer’s facility it was defective.  The theory behind this type of case is that had the product had not left the manufacturer’s broken, the passenger would never have suffered an injury. Usually, this type of claim is brought against more than just the vessel owner.  A products liability case involves including the defective product’s manufacturer and can include a company that sold the product to the vessel, the company operating or chartering the ship, or the company from whom a passenger purchased their ticket.

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Recoverable Damages

The types of damages which a passenger can recover for either negligence or products liability claims are the same.  Economic losses include past & future medical expenses, past & future loss of earnings, compensation for any services, (like funeral expenses).  Noneconomic damages consist of pain & suffering, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, loss of consortium.  Additionally, a plaintiff may be awarded additional punitive damages if the vessel owner or operator’s breach of duty was done in an extremely dangerous manner with knowledge of the danger.

Limitations on Recovery

The final consideration for passengers looking into filing a maritime suit is that a passenger’s ticket is considered a contract, which means the provisions listed on that ticket are legally binding against both parties.  If the passenger purchased a ticket to be on a vessel, then the terms of that ticket could limit the passenger’s available remedies.  For instance, most cruise ship tickets include provisions in their fine print that restrict a passenger to only bringing suit against a cruise line in a particular state or to only applying one specific state’s laws no matter what state the passenger initiates their lawsuit. Cruise ship tickets also frequently include time limits on how long after the injury occurred a passenger must commence their litigation.  Generally, this time frame is within one year of the injury, and some tickets even include provisions that require a passenger to give notice anywhere between one to six months to the cruise line that they intend to file a claim or lawsuit against the cruise line within that one-year time restraint.  Lastly, most cruise line tickets contain arbitration clauses. These clauses prevent passengers from bringing a lawsuit and force them to go through arbitration to settle any claims they have against the cruise line.

Conclusion

While some cruise lines’ contract provisions make it harder for a passenger to recover full, fair, and just compensation, that is no reason to feel intimidated. At our Firm, we work closely with our clients and consider all of the legal issues, including the fine print, to get the best results possible for our clients. If you were injured as a passenger offshore, do not hesitate to call us for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.