So you are ready for a vacation, and you have decided that you want to indulge in the luxury and relaxation of a cruise. You book your travel, and your ticket is full of a bunch of tiny writing that you figure is filled with information on meal seating times, or other details that you already know or you don not care about.
Well, think again. The cruise industry, and maritime law in general, has been given lenient and favorable legal interpretations by the courts. Many of these interpretations can directly affect you if you are injured while on one of the major cruise lines.
Shortened Time Frame to File Injury Suits Against Cruises
Cruises are veritable invitations for injury. Between the pools, food, and other debris on the floors, unlimited alcohol, the rocking ship, and the many levels separated by small railings, the chance for injury is almost everywhere (and that is not even counting the risk of injury on the ship’s excursions, which is a topic for another day).
The good news is that ships are liable for negligence the way that any other business owners are, and they have a duty of due care to maintain their premises. The bad news is that the cruise ticket that you “agreed” to (whether you know it or not), can create legal problems that are much different than those you would encounter in a typical injury case that occurred on land.
Federal law does limit the time you have to sue a cruise line for negligence to three years, which is one year shorter than Florida’s five-year time limit. The limitations periods are enforceable, and can forever bar your ability to bring a lawsuit for injuries sustained while on a cruise liner.
But that is the not biggest problem. The problem is that federal maritime law also allows a ship’s operator to limit the time that you have to sue them by putting shorter time limits in their cruise contract.
Federal law limited the time that can be included in a contract to a minimum of a year, so of course, almost every major cruise operator includes the one year time limit, the shortest period of time they can legally get away with.
Making the situation worse, there is no requirement that these time restrictions be pointed out to you in clear language, or language set aside from other legal fine print. In fact, the ill-fated 2012 Costa Concordia’s cruise ticket contained 6,400 words. Costa is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, which itself has an 8,000 word ticket.
The time limit does not just protect the cruise line, but also its contractors or agents. So even if you are injured by a company that is not the cruise line, but is an independent contractor or separate company, they may have the benefits of the contractually shortened time periods as well.
Even Shorter Periods Can Apply
These laws relate to the time there is to file a lawsuit. But that does not mean a cruise line can not set a time period that they have to be notified of an injury.
So, even though a cruise line like Royal Caribbean may be limited to providing at least a year to allow victims to file suit, it can also require that you provide them notice of the suit within six months, as a prerequisite to filing suit.
If you miss this deadline to provide notice, you may not be able to sue them, even if you actually file suit in the required year. This end-around allows the cruise lines to shorten the time periods even more.
Limited Exceptions May Be Applicable
There are some exceptions which may allow you to extent the contractually agreed on time limit. Minor children may not be subject to the shortened period. Some courts have held the shortened periods to be unenforceable where passengers received tickets shortly before boarding, with insufficient time to review them.
Depending on the wording of the agreement, there may be longer periods for intentional acts that cause injury.
Affirmative statements made by cruise representatives which falsely represent the victim has a longer time to file suit than he has may also extend the time period, if the victim reasonably relies upon them. But that is a factual issue that can be tough to prove.
Other Problems Can Arise
Your cruise contract can contain other gems as well.
Many require that suit be filed in certain venues only. So, if you come to Miami from Nebraska for a cruise and are injured, your contract may require you to sue in Miami. These venue provisions can make it very difficult for a victim to litigate a case in a far away forum. The problem gets even worse for international cruises, where suits may have to be brought in foreign countries, under their laws.
Many contracts waive the right to certain damages, such as emotional distress, or punitive damages. Some contracts can even set a cap on the total amount of damages that can be recovered by a victim, for all injuries sustained.
The moral of the story is that when you are injured on a cruise, you need to act immediately. Any delay or deviation from the obligations your cruise ticket requires of you, can prevent your ability to recover some or all of your damages. Contact the cruise ship and maritime injury lawyers at Brill & Rinaldi for a full consultation about your cruise injury case.