Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents/Incidents

When you take a cruise, you may or may not notice the flag flying on the top of the ship. If you look, you’ll notice the flag usually isn’t an American one. And if you listen to cruise commercials you may hear the words “ship’s registry,” followed by the name of a country. Likely, you don’t know what that means or how it affects you. But it has a huge impact on cruise safety, and there’s a good reason that you don’t see many flying under the American flag.

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What is a Flag of Convenience?

The flags that fly on cruise ships that are from foreign countries are often called “flags of convenience,” because by sailing under them, ships become the territory of that nation, and thus avoid U.S. laws regulations, and taxation. A ship only has to follow the labor codes, environmental rules, and safety standards, of the nation they sail under—almost all of which have lesser and weaker standards than in the U.S.

According to Cruise Lines International Association, 90% of cruises fly under a flag other than an American flag.

And as you may imagine, the countries with the most lax standards tend to be the most popular. Seeking the money that comes with having a major cruise line register under it, many nations have purposely made regulations as lenient as possible.

Also popular with cruise lines are those countries that don’t take a hard look into cruising accidents. After a 2010 Carnival Cruise ship fire, the National Transportation Safety Board was going to investigate. Carnival objected, stating that because they flew under a Panamanian flag, only Panamanian officials could investigate. Why invite the watchful and thorough eye of a U.S. agency, when you can have the Panamanian government look into the problem.

The FBI does have limited jurisdiction to investigate when a U.S. Citizen is the victim of a crime no matter what flag is over the ship. But they rarely do, and even when they do, they have no role in tracking and monitoring cruise ship incidents, or in mandating rule or policy changes on ships to make sure incidents don’t repeat themselves.

Investigations into Incidents can be Non-Existent

Many incidents involving crew members who are not U.S. citizens may never be investigated at all. If an incident is investigated, the investigation is almost always done by the country whose flag flies over the ship. That country is usually one that isn’t known for its diligent law enforcement investigatory skills.

In many countries, just getting a response from law enforcement or a local coast guard can take hours. And often, law enforcement in the flagged country will purposely drag feet or cut corners, wary of creating bad press from its multimillion dollar cruise “client.”

Contact Our Attorneys for Help

Have you been injured on a cruise line? The laws can be complex, and it may be up to you and your lawyer to gather the facts which may be missed by the investigating authorities. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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We speak a lot on this blog about injuries to cruise line passengers, and injuries that happen on leisure cruise ships. But injuries can also happen to employees at sea also. Employees can be those on a large cruise line, but they may also include those working on private vessels, smaller touring ships, ferries, or fishing and work boats.

Injured workers at sea have much greater protections than workers on land, subject to state law, would have. Here’s a quick rundown of how federal law differs from state law when it comes to helping employees injured at sea get recovery for their injuries.

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Recovery for Negligence

Due to workers’ compensation immunity, a worker injured on the job normally can’t sue their employer for negligence under state law.

But under federal maritime law, they can. There is no immunity. Owners of ships at sea have an absolute duty to their workers to ensure the work environment is safe.

This means that a ship owner needs to make sure equipment is functioning properly, that the area is safe from unusual slip or fall hazards, and that the ship is sufficiently maintained and serviced.

Causation is Easier

Under normal state negligence law, someone who is injured must show that the negligence was a “proximate cause” of the person’s injuries. But under federal maritime law, all that needs to be proven is that the ship owner’s negligence played any part at all in the injury.

That means that even if someone else is negligent (like a crewmember, for example), if the ship owner contributed in any way—say, by failing to establish policies and procedures that, if established, would have prevented the injury that was directly caused by another crewmember—the ship owner may be held liable.

This is a very relaxed standard, making what is normally a very contested issue in negligence—causation—a much easier burden.

This relaxed burden also comes into play with negligent hire cases. For example, if a ship hires someone with a known criminal history or criminal background, and that person injures another crewmember, the injured crewmember may have a claim against the ship for negligent hiring. The ship may owe money even though it was the rogue criminal crewmember that directly caused injury.

Where to File

Generally, an employee injured due to the negligence of an employer can file an action in federal or state court. Those who are injured on land while at work are not only stuck with workers’ compensation laws, but must have their case heard in administrative courts with no jury.

Its important to remember that these protections apply to anyone working on a vessel that’s capable of navigation (sailing or cruising), even if the ship isn’t actually navigating at the time of injury. Thus a crewmember injured on a cruise ship while the ship is docked at a port still gets the protections of the federal maritime laws.

Whether you are an employee, a crewmember, or a passenger injured at sea, you want attorneys who understand the subtle differences between state and federal laws. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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Well, it’s happened again. Although we seem to be told repeatedly by the cruise industry that norovirus outbreaks are sporadic and preventative measures are improving, in seems that once again, a cruise ship and its passengers have fallen victim to an outbreak.

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Princess Cruise Suffers Large Virus Outbreak

This time it was a Princess Cruise line that experienced the outbreak. The cruise, leaving from Los Angeles, to Hawaii and then Tahiti, suffered an outbreak that affected 172 people on board. Most of the affected were passengers, but 14 crewmembers were sickened as well. The CDC, which conducted an immediate testing of the vessel, confirmed the outbreak was indeed norovirus.

Per CDC guidelines, the ship and the terminal will be scrubbed to try to eliminate any future problems.

This comes on the heels of an April outbreak on Princess Cruises, which sickened 152 people. That time, the culprit was both norovirus and E. Coli. And a February outbreak on a Holland America cruise line sickened 124 people.

How Disease Free Are the Cruise Lines?

Earlier this year, a CNN report said that cruise ships were “ripe for spreading illness.” In 2013, the CDC reported 1,300 people as being affected by the virus on cruises (although not all were from U.S. ports).

The cruise industry likes to remind everyone that the outbreak rate is not very large, considering about 10 million people go on cruise ships yearly. And, according to the CDC, norovirus affects about 21 million people on land, thus dwarfing the outbreak number on cruise ships.

The CDC does conduct random unannounced inspections of ships, to check for sanitary conditions and to ensure that proper preventative measures are being taken by ships. And some ships which had norovirus outbreaks scored as high as 98 out of 100 on previous inspections. The CDC and the cruise industry points to this as evidence that not every ship affected by the virus is unclean or unsanitary.

The CDC emphasizes that when there is an outbreak, measures can be taken to quell the spreading of the disease. This includes hand washing, isolation of the ill, and avoiding direct contact with public surfaces such as bathroom door handles. But obviously, this is much easier said than done, and in many cases, the measures may not be implemented until the virus has already spread.

It may be that the virus is just an expected risk of cruising, as there is no indication that ships with outbreaks are doing anything they shouldn’t, or failing to do anything they should. Still, it’s curious when one cruise line, such as Princess, experiences two major outbreaks in such a short period of time.

Injured on a cruise line? Not every injury attorney understands the federal maritime laws that apply to injuries at sea. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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Earlier last week our Cruise Ship Lawyers sought and received a court order under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 (b) in the  form of issue based sanctions against Defendant Carnival Cruise Lines in a lawsuit brought by Mrs. Esperanza Viletta in the case of Viletta v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Case No. 11-20930. The sanctions were ordered by United States Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan and were upheld by United States District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga in a six (6) page written order. Click this link to read the Order. The sanctions were issued based on a myriad of discovery violations including express denials by Defendant Carnival concerning the failure to disclose and otherwise hide the existence of certain documents, reports, and based on record testimony by Carnival’s Corporate Representative in deposition. In her order, Judge Altonaga held that the sanctions entered were warranted and over Carnivals objections, were not contrary to the law despite their severity and should “deter” Carnival and p0tentially others from similar conduct in the future.

In the October 30, 2014 order, the court determined the appropriate sanctions were a determination that as a matter of law that 1.)Notice of a dangerous condition and the existence of a dangerous condition was established prior to trial and 2.) Defendant’s affirmative defense as to lack of notice was stricken.  Junior Partner, Nicholas I. Gerson, of the Miami personal injury law offices of Gerson and Schwartz, PA served as lead counsel and argued the matter in the United States District  Court for the Southern District of Florida. At an October 28, 2014 hearing, Gerson argued that the type of sanctions were necessary in order to cure the prejudice against his client and that absent such relief would only benefit Carnival and would ultimately reward Carnival for hiding important evidence. The Court agreed.

At issue was Carnival’s express denial that it had not made any changes to the yellow tile floor surfaces in the Lido market place restaurant on the Carnival Breeze. Despite their denials,  Carnival had in fact applied a slip resistant coating to the market place floor surfaces on the vessel and had even conducted tests to check the floors for slip resistance before the application. The existence of reports and Carnivals’ findings of  test results were also repeatedly denied by Carnival throughout the lawsuit. Yet as it turned out the floor surfaces were changed and documented proof of the testing performed confirmed the floors fell  below the standard of care for slip resistance and were dangerous as alleged by the Plaintiff. The reference to reports were buried in several emails that were produced and after numerous hearings where Carnival took the position that no documents existed. The reports were eventually ordered to be produced by the Court and when they were disclosed the reports showed Carnival was aware about the dangers of the floor surfaces prior to Ms. Viletta’s incident and were even specific to the area where Ms. Viletta had fallen. The Miami personal injury lawyers  of Gerson and Schwartz represent  injury victims on land and sea. If you or a loved one are in need of  aggressive legal representation contact the Miami Florida personal injury attorneys at Gerson and Schwartz, PA at 1-877-475-2905 , or visit www.injuryattorneyfla.com. All cases are handled on a contingent fee.

 

There have been an abnormally large number of cruise accidents recently. And while none could be termed catastrophic, the recent spate still is worth noting to draw attention to the safety standards that some cruise lines are employing.

Halloween Cruise Runs Aground

Just recently on a Halloween cruise, a Grand Bahama Celebration cruise ship returning to Palm Beach struck something in the water, forcing it to turn around, and return to port.

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There were no injuries, and passengers were set up with lodging until the ship could return. A ferry eventually brought the passengers back to Palm Beach.

But before that, the ship was reportedly severely listing to one side, leading some passengers to call it a “nightmare” and saying they could feel the boat tipping over. The passengers were put into life jackets, before the boat came to an abrupt halt and lost all power.

There are two things that are concerning about this incident. The first is that we have no idea what the cruise line struck. This is in line with cruise line victim advocates’ calls for more transparency and open reporting on cruise line accidents. Even with all the progress, a cruise line can still just make a vague statement like “struck something,” and leave it at that.

The second concerning thing is that the cruise line touts itself as the fastest in the world, being able to get from Florida to the Bahamas in two hours. One wonders how much the rush to meet that stated goal may have compromised safety.

Other Accidents Cause Concern

Another ship ran aground in Norway recently. This ship, coincidentally, also registered to the Bahamas, was a smaller, chartered ship, and encountered trouble in Norway’s fjords. There were no injuries, but somewhat troubling was the fact that the ship apparently had run aground nearby in March of this year.

Again, highlighting the utter lack of transparency, the cause of the accident was not disclosed or reported. Comically, the cause of the March accident was reported as being “unclear.” It’s hard to imagine how a cruise line is unclear how its boat runs ashore.

Also recently, a cruise worker was killed when working on a lifeboat of a docked ship. While working on a lifeboat that was being raised up, a beam holding the lifeboat up snapped, dropping the boat and the worker to the ground below.

These kinds of incidents don’t get large media play because there was, for most, a lack of serious mass injury. And certainly worker injuries or those involving smaller ships don’t get the airtime that Carnival or Celebration or the other big lines do.

Still, this rash of accidents has to make you wonder what’s going on in the cruise industry, and whether some more open reporting would help curb these kinds of accidents before there are mass injuries.

If you’re injured at sea or on a cruise, get your questions answered by experienced maritime attorneys. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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We’ve often discussed in this blog that a major problem with cruise safety is simply lack of cruise safety information. There is no one clearinghouse or database where potential passengers can check a cruise line’s safety record, or see if anybody has been injured or assaulted on a cruise.

The department of Transportation, with the help of a Senator, has recently announced a plan that may at least take one step towards alleviating that problem.

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New Website Consolidates Information

With urging from the International Cruise Victims’ Association, (ICV), the Department of Transportation has announced that it will launch a new website that will consolidate information about cruise safety that is compiled from other governmental agencies.

Previously, public information had to be researched under each separate agency. Many consumers have no idea what agency to complain to when there was a problem with a cruise line. For example, a criminal assault may have to be researched through the Department of Justice, while also involving the U.S. Coast Guard and FBI.

The website is a joint effort between the Department of Transportation and senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who has long advocated for cruise line passenger rights.

Consumers also will be able to log complaints with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), including by phone at 202-523-5807, but it’s uncertain how involved that agency will get when dealing with injury victims.

FMC and Website Have Limited Ability to Resolve Claims

The FMC does provide some assistance to injured cruise passengers, requiring that all cruise lines carry sufficient assets and finances to pay for “casualties” (though not necessarily non-fatal injuries). This ensures that a large cruise carrier won’t avoid paying a judgment against it (although in reality, almost every major cruise line is insured anyway for injury loss).

The agency has no ability to get between you and an unfavorable cruise ticket. So the restrictive and punitive terms of some of these tickets, which constitute contracts, can’t be altered by the FMC.

For disputes between you and a cruise ship, all the FMC can do is act as a “go between,” conveying your complaint to the cruise line and trying to facilitate a resolution.

In reality, all federal agencies have a poor history of helping consumers. And the site seems to be, at best, a clearinghouse of the limited information that cruise lines must report. Thus, Senator Rockefeller’s calling the site a “game changer” may be a little overstated.

According to some reports, the cruise line industry wasn’t even aware that the website was being implemented. This is no surprise, as had they been aware, there likely would have been some pushback, although the cruise lines have little say on what information the government puts on its own websites.

If you’re injured at sea or on a cruise, get your questions answered by experienced maritime attorneys. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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When we think of injuries at sea, we often think of injuries to passengers due to the negligence of a cruise ship. But maritime law goes far beyond that, extending to provide employees of ships with a wide range of benefits that they wouldn’t ordinarily be entitled to under state laws.

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Under state law, an employee injured on the job generally must make a claim for injury under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. In Florida, an employee who is afforded workers’ compensation is barred from bringing a standard negligence claim against their employer for anything other than the most intentional acts. But maritime law is very different, being governed by federal law, and the federal Jones act.

What Maintenance and Cure Provide

Federal law provides maritime workers and employees with a benefit called maintenance and cure. In common terms, it means that your employer must pay for your housing and your medical care while you are injured and off the job.

The idea is grounded in the theory that an employer at sea ordinarily provides for a roof over its employees’ heads. When an employee must be home due to injury, the employer does not get relieved of this obligation—it must now pay for or compensate the injured victim for the time spent on land.

The maintenance can often be the entire amount of the injured employee’s living expenses, even if they live in a more expensive area. Unfortunately, many employers try to get away with paying nominal amounts which are insufficient for the injured employee to live off of.

Cure is the obligation of an employer to pay for the medical care of the injured employee, often making payment directly to the health care provider.

How Long Benefits Last

On top of these benefits, an injured crewman retains the right to sue for negligence under the Jones act. But remember that an employee is entitled to maintenance and cure, regardless of how they were injured, even if there was no negligence involved.

Maintenance and cure will continue until you are at MMI, or Maximum Medical Improvement. As you may imagine, that’s a subjective test. In an effort to avoid paying, many employers will declare crewmembers at MMI, even before they are ready to go back to work. Many employers may also refuse to pay for needed tests, diagnostics, therapy, or medications.

The law provides for an injured crewmember to obtain punitive damages where an employer does not provide maintenance and cure, so nobody should ever tolerate allowing an employer to try shorting them of any benefits.

Those entitled to maintenance and cure go beyond just cruise ship workers. Those working on fishing boats, tour boats, casino ships, transport vessels, and commercial ships, among others, are covered under maritime law as well.

Whether you are an employee, a crewmember, or a passenger injured at sea, you want attorneys who understand the subtle differences between state and federal laws. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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As if the ebola scare needed another angle, it now appears that someone who may have been exposed to the virus is aboard a cruise ship, of all things. It’s possible nothing will come of this, but if it does, it will call into play many of the topics that we have discussed regarding cruise line safety and standards previously on our blog.

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Exposed Passenger on a Cruise Ship

It is well known that a patient in a Dallas hospital died from ebola, apparently after the hospital staff waited too long treat him. Nurses from that hospital are also now alleging that there were no safety standards in the hospital for those nurses, and that nurses who treated the patient may have exposed the virus to other patients, and blood taken from the patient may have contaminated the hospital’s supply. Two nurses who did have direct contact with the patient have contracted the disease.

Making matters worse, it now appears that one of those hospital staff who may have been exposed, a lab technician for the Dallas hospital, is aboard a carnival cruise ship.

The CDC has reported that it has been many days since her exposure, and the technician has reported no symptoms at all. The cruise line says that the technician is currently isolated from the rest of the crew.

The cruise ship was supposed to dock in Belize. The ship did dock, but the passenger in question did not get off the ship. The government of Belize, apparently frightened for its own safety, refused a request by the U.S. to assist in evacuating the technician (who, again, as of now, has displayed no signs of having the disease).

Cruise Ships are Ill Prepared to Deal with Such Diseases

Although this may be a false scare, it raises many concerns. As we’ve discussed before in this blog, cruise ships are petri dishes for disease. The small quarters, close contact, and isolated nature of a ship create an ideal breeding ground for contagious diseases.

We’ve also discussed the inadequacy and ill training of some cruise line medical staffs. Certainly, if a major U.S. hospital wasn’t prepared to identify ebola, and properly quarantine and protect its staff, it would be unlikely that a cruise ship medical staff would be able to.

Additionally, like any disease, ebola requires self-reporting—that is, a patient has to go to the doctor when he feels ill. At home, patients are much more likely to do so than on a cruise ship. Passengers on a vacation may be very hesitant to see a doctor when they first develop symptoms, meaning that even if the ship handled quarantine procedures perfectly, by the time they were aware of the disease, it may have already spread.

The point is not to be paranoid about ebola, or cruising. Just the scare itself shows how the lackadaisical standards and poor oversight and monitoring of cruise ship safety can lead to a real disaster.

If you have questions about cruise line safety or were injured as a cruise passenger, talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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If you are injured on a cruise ship, a major hurdle that you may have is filing your lawsuit within the time period provided by law. Cruise ship accident victims are often excluded from bringing negligence or liability claims, based upon having waited too long to file a lawsuit.

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What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a deadline in which a lawsuit can be filed. After that deadline, the lawsuit is forever barred. Different causes of action—negligence, breach of contract, malpractice, etc. – may have different statutes of limitations, and different states have different limitations on each kind of action.

Federal maritime law has a statute of limitation of three years in which a claim based on negligence can be brought. The problem is that federal law explicitly states that parties can change that time frame by agreement.

Cruise lines now almost always have limitations period that are shorter than the three-year period in the cruise contract ticket. And yes—you are assumed to have “agreed” to all the terms in your cruise contract, even if you don’t actually sign it. As long as the language providing a shorter limitations period is there, and you buy the ticket and take the cruise, you’re subject to that limitations period.

Because federal law restricts a contractually based limitations period to one year, that is almost always the restriction on the time period.

If your claim is based on property damage or loss of property, as opposed to injury, that time period can be even shorter—sometimes, a passenger may be required to make a claim within days of the incident.

Additionally, filing a suit against a contractor, or just an agent, who may not be directly employed by the cruise line, may also be restricted by the cruise ticket time limitation.

Exceptions to Contractual Limitations

There have been some exceptions made by courts to the contractual time bar.

Injuries suffered by minor children may not be subject to the restriction. In some cases, passengers who received tickets shortly before boarding, with insufficient time to review the terms, have not been restricted by the time limitation.

Depending on the wording of the ticket, certain kinds of misconduct, such as intentional acts, may not be covered by the limitation.

And, if a cruise line makes affirmative misrepresentations to mislead a passenger into thinking there is more time to file a lawsuit than there really is, the statute of limitations may be extended.  (As an aside, this is a good reason to write down any conversations you may have with cruise employees, executives, or insurance adjusters, if you have had any before hiring your lawyer.)

All this is not to say it’s best practice to wait to file suit—it most certainly is not. Even arguing an exception to a contractual limitations period is an uphill battle. And your cruise contract likely has loads of additional consumer-unfriendly terms (the ill-fated 2012 Costa Concordia had a 6400-word ticket contract) to deal with in addition to limitations restrictions.

If you’re injured at sea, don’t wait. Complex federal laws and contractual agreements may limit your ability to ever recover if you don’t hire an attorney and bring a claim timely. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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The Washington Post recently published an interesting article about whether or not cruise ships are doing enough to protect passengers, and whether existing regulations are strong enough to ensure passenger safety.

The article describes one passenger who almost drowned in the undertow of a pool on the ship, after going down a large slide. Her sister noticed her struggling, and only after she desperately cried for help did anybody from the cruise staff jump in to help her.

To make up for her accident, Carnival offered her a $100 coupon.

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Industry Tries to Avoid Regulation

The cruise industry has thus far managed to avoid heavy government regulation by “self-regulating,” another way of saying the cat is guarding the henhouse or the wolf is protecting the sheep.

To show it is self-regulating, the cruise industry voluntarily passed its own “Passenger Bill of Rights,” which, while admirable, has no legal authority behind it, and is largely a voluntary “feel good” measure to appease lawmakers.

Despite the P.R. appeal of passing its “bill of rights,” the cruise industry may not be able to avoid Washington intervention. Legislators are still trying to pass a “Cruise Passenger Protection Act,” which would have mandatory safety requirements for cruises,  expanded ability for government investigation of on-board accidents, and would require the reporting of all incidents that happen on a cruise for public viewing.

Regulation is Needed

It is no wonder that such regulation is needed. Cruise ships are now enormous recreation campuses, where the risk of injury isn’t just falling on a slippery floor.

With the addition of pool slides, rock walls, sporting activities, amusement park-like rides, and loads of other types of activities, the cruise line’s obligation to operate safely now goes beyond just traditional maritime activities.

If these kinds of recreational activities are regulated on land, there should be no reason why they wouldn’t be at sea.

Yet, the cruise lines still object to regulation. They contend that there are no more injuries on a ship than there are off the ship, and that the industry is doing enough on its own. They also use the old fashioned trick of threatening price increases—that the safety measures will lead to increased ticket prices.

Still, this argument ignores the fact that passengers injured at sea don’t have the same rights as those injured at an amusement park or similar facility on land. Injuries at sea are often severely limited by the terms of the cruise ticket, as well as by federal maritime laws, and by the extreme difficulty of the possibility of having to sue in a foreign jurisdiction.

The differences are compounded by the often sorely inadequate availability of real medical care aboard a cruise ship.

It is unclear if the law will or will not pass. But until it does, it seems that we may hear more about injuries that happen on cruise ships as they get bigger, with more amenities, even as the laws governing them remain static.

Were you sick or injured at sea or on a cruise? Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your rights under maritime laws.

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