We hear a lot about the safety of our cruise lines, and about the federal maritime laws that differ from the state laws that we are used to when it comes to suing for injuries that are sustained while on a cruise. On top of the normal difficulties involved in these kinds of cases, a new layer of complexity is added when injuries are sustained during off-ship adventures, often called “excursions.”
What are Excursions?
Excursions are the events that are planned by the cruise line for passengers to take part in when the ship docks in a port. Excursions can range from the fairly innocuous, such as shopping trips, to the very high-risk and high-adventure, such as parasailing, bungee-jumping, motorcycling, and various other extreme activities.
Some excursions involve a number of steps to get from ship to excursion. For example, passengers may have to get off the ship, onto a bus, and to the site of the excursion.
When Injuries Happen on Excursions
When passengers are injured while out on excursions, there may be multiple potentially liable parties. In most cases, a cruise victim will seek to hold a cruise line responsible for injuries that happen on these excursions.
How much liability a cruise line has for these injuries depends on who you believe. Cruise lines would have you believe that the excursion companies have nothing to do with the lines, and that the cruise lines do not control the excursion companies’ policies, employees, or operations.
Cruises would have you believe that when you opt to take an excursion, you transfer the oversight of your safety from the cruise line to the excursion company. Thus, if you are injured, you should look to the excursion company.
Of course, cruise lines sell these excursions to their passengers, make money off the excursions, and know that their passengers trust the cruise lines to select responsible excursion companies. Thus, cruise lines surely have more control over these companies than they would have you believe.
Lawsuit Against Cruise Line Rather Than Excursion Company
In many cases, passengers may be completely unaware of the local customs or regulations (or lack thereof) that may put them in danger while on excursions that take place in foreign countries. Last January, a cruise passenger was killed and four others who were injured and are filing suit after an accident in which a Jamaican bus driver, taking passengers to a popular excursion site, was driving erratically and too fast, according to witnesses.
Although it was the excursion company employee driving the bus, passengers are now suing Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines for the accident.
Witnesses say that when passengers brought to the driver’s attention that he was driving too fast, he responded by saying that this was the way people drove normally in Jamaica. On a two lane road, the bus attempted to pass a slower car, but had to swerve to avoid an oncoming truck. The bus hit the car, and flipped, causing death and injuries to the passengers.
A large part of the suit will be determining whether the bus operator was, in fact, controlled by Royal Caribbean, and whether the cruise line should be liable for the bus driver’s negligence.
This is an important issue in excursion accidents because in many cases, excursion companies in other countries may have no significant assets to ever make any payment to a victim or a victim’s families, even if a court orders it. Many may have no insurance, and may not even be viable, suable corporations under the laws of whatever country the company is operating in.
Questions also arise as to how to enforce a judgment that may be entered against a foreign corporation.
This is why cruise lines often take the approach of pointing the finger at the excursion companies—knowing that there is little there for a victim to go after, the hope is that the victim will simply go away, rather than file a lawsuit.
Differing Laws May Apply
Another reason why pointing the finger at excursion companies is a good idea for a cruise line is that the excursion company is governed by the laws of its home country. That country may have little or no laws that govern passenger safety. For example, whereas in America someone may have to undergo significant certification before deep sea diving, in another country, it may be perfectly legal to slap diving gear on someone, give them a two-hour training course that consists of a video, and put them in the water.
When that someone drowns for lack of experience in the water, or lack of training on how to use the diving equipment, there may be no laws broken under the company’s home state, the way there would be in America. Even common driving accidents may leave victims with no recourse, if traffic laws or definitions of negligence or carelessness differ in those countries than they do in the U.S.
Thus, a victim that is left to only sue an excursion company, even a large one that may have assets, may be facing a difficult legal battle in a case that would otherwise be quite obvious under America’s laws. Passengers should take care to only engage in off-ship activities that they are comfortable with. Do not do anything you would not do in the U.S., and report all injuries that happen on excursions, to the cruise line immediately.
If you are injured while on a cruise, no matter how, make sure your attorneys understand the complex issues involved in these kinds of cases. Contact the attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi for a free consultation to discuss your case.