Maritime & Cruise Ship Accident Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents/Incidents

A lawsuit based in maritime has been filed in the brutal beating of a cruise passenger that we mentioned on our blog a few weeks ago. With the filing of the lawsuit, the victim’s attorney has revealed the carelessness of the cruise line that contributed to the vicious attack. Our Florida maritime law firm is monitoring the case closely.

The Horrific Attack

DSCF6491The case stems from a  Holland America cruise ship passenger was brutally beaten by a Holland America employee, who apparently had a master key and used it to gain entry into the victim’s cabin. The employee tried to strangle the woman with a phone cord, smashed her with a laptop and other blunt objects, and even tried to throw her overboard. She was also sexually assaulted. At one point, her oxygen supply was completely cut off from the choking. The entire attack lasted about an hour, until the victim managed to escape the cabin into the hallway.

The victim asked others to relay to her family that she loved them, certain she would not survive her injuries. Her body was racked with bruises and gashes, she had bites on her hands, her teeth shifted from the force of the blows, and she sustained significant traumatic brain injuries.

Cruise Line Negligence v. Strict Liability

It is easy to look at this kind of brutality and ask what a cruise line could do to prevent a maniac employee from unexpectedly going on a rampage. Many people believe that a cruise line (or even a land-based business) should not be responsible for criminal violence committed by its employees. However, under general maritime law, cruise ship companies are strictly liable for criminal acts committed by their employees. That means that cruise ship accident victims do not need to establish principles of negligence such as notice, and breach of a legal duty in order to succeed. If a criminal act such as a rape, sexual assault or battery is committed by an employee of the cruise line, the ship is responsible.

But the lawsuit is explaining how a cruise ship’s carelessness can play a large hand in allowing these kinds of incidents to occur.

In this case, the victim’s attorney still notes that it was careless and could be gross negligence, to allow a lower-level employee to have a master key that allows them to gain access to any cabin at any time. Gross negligence could pave the way for punitive damages.

When neighboring passengers who heard the screams for help called 911, their calls were not routed to security. Instead, they were routed to the front desk, which then decided whether the calls warranted getting security involved. As it turns out, the front desk staff on duty classified the calls as “medium priority,” thus leading to security not being called to the scene in a timely manner. A broken toilet the day beforehand had been classified as “high priority.”

When help did arrive, 45 minutes later, it wasn’t even security—it was a front desk employee. That employee didn’t even have a master key, the way the employee who beat the passenger did, thus preventing any kind of immediate response.

The ship also had only one roving security officer, despite there being 3,000 passengers.

Cruise lines seem to be lack basic fundamental principles of passenger safety and security procedures. Even though cruise ship companies represent that the cruise line offers the same level of safety and security as on land based environments – this is not the case. People shouldn’t assume that the same safety assurances and responsiveness they have on land will apply when they are at sea.

If you are injured while a passenger on a cruise ship, don’t wait to get help. Talk to a maritime and cruise ship injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injuries.

If you are a passenger on a cruise, you may be aware of a number of potential hazards (especially if you are a regular reader of this blog). You may be aware of slippery floors, excursion accidents, mechanical failures, and a number of other possibilities. But one thing we don’t give much thought to is food safety. How safe is the food that cruises are serving?

bacteriaReport Looks at Cruise Food Safety

ProPublica has looked into this issue in a fascinating, interactive page that allows viewers to look at safety from each aspect of a cruise ship, from the kitchens to the pools to everything in-between. The site also allows you to search for the safety record for a particular cruise ship, although bear in mind there is no obligatory safety reporting required of cruise ships, so the database may not be completely reliable.

In many ways, food and kitchen safety on a cruise is no different than that required of land-based restaurants. Among some of the problems found in cruise kitchens and food preparation areas are:

  • Dish trolleys: Improper storage of food on dish trolleys, or dish trolleys that were not clean, or soiled with grease or grime
  • Sick employees: We already know how contagious a viral outbreak can be on a ship when a passenger is sick. But when the crew gets sick and that crew is handling your food, it can make for dangerous conditions. Cruise workers are often encouraged to work through sickness, may also fear adverse employment decisions in the event they take sick days, or may come from cultures that don’t encourage taking sick days off from work.
  • Pots and Pans: Soiled or unclean pots and pans can make for an environment that can contaminate food.
  • Other passengers: It sounds gross to talk about, but it is a valid health issue—passengers sneezing on buffet tables or handling items with unclean hands can lead to contamination that makes its way to the food supply.

Statistics are Unreliable

There are statistics available to determine norovirus outbreaks on ships, but that number can be deceptive because a norovirus may be different than food borne illness (i.e., “food poisoning”). In fact, in many instances, illness on cruise ships can be the result of e.coli, a foodborne illness.

The CDC also has specific requirements for when an outbreak qualifies as a reportable outbreak. For example, a certain set of symptoms must be met by a passenger before that passenger’s illness is reported to the CDC as an outbreak. And even ships that have very good ratings or safety records can be hit with viral outbreaks.

If you are injured or get sick while a passenger on a cruise ship, you have rights. Don’t be a victim. Speak to a maritime attorney about making a claim or lawsuit for your injuries. Talk to the Florida cruise ship attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your cruise injury case.

Just when it seems that the cruise industry really can’t ignore common sense safety precautions any more than they have already, new information comes out guaranteed to surprise anybody with a modicum of common sense. This time it has to do with national news reports revealing the lack of safety precautions used by cruise ships at their onboard pools.450894208_f1a963aa17

Report reveals Lack of Lifeguards

An NBC News Today Show report recently revealed that many cruise lines have no lifeguards at or around their onboard pools, despite more than 1.5 children million cruising every year (although lifeguards are a safety precaution for all passengers, not just children).

The report detailed numerous incidents of children who nearly drowned in onboard cruise ship pools. In most cases, it was fellow passengers who had to rescue them from certain drowning. But many children are not rescued, dying as a result of unmonitored activity in the pools. And even where rescued, many children suffer serious brain injury after a near-drowning event.

Other than Disney, almost no other major cruise line stations lifeguard at their pools, according to the report.

Cruise Industry Gives Pathetic Response

The cruise lines international association, speaking on behalf of the cruise lines, simply responds by saying that there are signs onboard clearly disclosing the lack of a lifeguard. In other words, the cruise lines believe that as long as they tell you they are disregarding common safety procedure, it must be okay.

Another common cruise line tactic when there is a tragedy is to blame the parents. Surely, parents have some responsibility in monitoring and safeguarding their own children. But a cruise ship may have 1,000 children onboard, and it takes only a moment’s distraction for tragedy to strike. In many cases, a drowning is silent—there may be no splashing or disruption to alert a parent. Even the most diligent parents can’t keep a constant eye on a pool the way a lifeguard can (and many may not even have the water skills themselves to assist a drowning child).

Don’t be fooled by the “safety” of shallow water either—children can drown in shallow water as well as deep water.

The cruise lines give no reason why most water amusement parks have lifeguards, yet the cruise industry doesn’t feel it’s necessary for them.

When Will Lifeguards Be Implemented?

Because only a handful of dead and disabled children apparently isn’t enough to make a decision, the association says it’s continuing to monitor the situation to see if additional safety measures should be implemented.

As is the case with many injury lawsuits, cases can have not just the effect of trying to make a victim whole, but can also have larger effects on the safety of entire industries. That means change may only come when problem hits the industry in its pockets, through lawsuits and verdicts that force cruise lines to implement lifeguards.

If you are injured while a passenger on a cruise ship, don’t allow poor safety measures to continue. Hold negligent cruise ships responsible, and speak to a maritime attorney about making a claim or lawsuit for your injuries. Talk to the Florida cruise ship attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your cruise injury case.

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If you have ever been on a cruise, and the ship visited ports of call, you may have noticed that in many cases, the countries you visited did not have easy transport from the ship to land. In fact, in many cases, there may not have been any access at all, but rather you may have had to board smaller ships to take you to the mainland from the ship and back again.

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This is quite common. Unfortunately, a recent tragedy is highlighting what a cruise line’s duty is with respect to these transports.

Accident Happens While Getting Off Ship

While aboard a 112-night world cruise, a passenger died when boarding a tender, the name of the smaller boats that take passengers from the cruise ship to the mainland. These boats are often needed because many ports of call don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate larger cruise ships. Sometimes, inclement weather may require that a cruise ship stay a distance away from shore.

Access to the tenders from the cruise ship is often by a ramp that extends from the ship to the tender. But transfer from ramp to tender can be tricky: both may be moving with the tide, and the alignment from one to the other is never perfect. In many cases, the cruise line will have employees there assisting customers in making the transport.

Unfortunately, it appears in this case as if the ramp gave way as the passenger was making the tender-ramp transfer. This may have been a result of bad weather that delayed the ship when it reached its destination. Despite the fact cruise line employees dove into the water to help her, the passenger died as a result.

Cruise Lines Can’t Blame Others

In many cases, the companies that operate the tenders are private companies that may have no relationship with the cruise ship company. Thus, many cruise lines may try to place blame for any accident on these companies.

But federal maritime law makes this difficult. The law places a heightened duty on cruise lines when it comes to providing transport on and off their vessel. That heightened duty prohibits the cruise line from blaming another company for negligence. In legal terms, this is known as a “non-delegable duty.”

It’s important to remember the distinction between transport on and off a vessel, and excursions. If you are injured on an excursion (the activities that are available at the port of call), the cruise line usually will be able to place the blame on the excursion company as an independent contractor of the cruise line. The question is whether the activity involved getting to and from the cruise ship. If it did, the heightened duty comes into play.

If you are injured while a passenger on a cruise ship, make sure you have attorneys that understand complex federal maritime laws, and the different legal standards that may apply depending on your accident. Talk to the Florida cruise ship attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your cruise injury case.

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If you’re on a cruise ship, and you’re injured as a result of medical malpractice, federal law which governs injuries at sea has been fairly consistent that you cannot recover damages against the cruise line as a result of the negligence.

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There have been all kinds of excuses to deny recovery under a malpractice theory. One shouldn’t expect the same medical care on a ship as they do on land. Cruise ships are not floating hospitals, and shouldn’t be held to a medical malpractice standard the same way real medical facilities are. Or, the doctors on the ship are independent contractors, and thus, the cruise ship can’t be responsible for their negligence.

But a recent case now seems to be turning the law around, providing medical malpractice victims at sea a possible remedy under federal laws.

Passenger Dies After Injury at Sea

The case involves a man who hit his head while onboard, and went to the medical facility on a Royal Caribbean ship. After a cursory review (and no scans) the doctor said for him to simply rest. The man went back to his cabin, but after feeling worse, was taken back to the infirmary. Four hours after his accident, he was finally sent to a hospital in Bermuda.

The passenger had suffered a traumatic brain injury, which would lead to his death days later.

The family alleged the doctors should have recognized the injury, and gotten the passenger immediate help.

Federal Court Allows Malpractice Claim

A federal appeals court has now determined that Royal Caribbean can be sued for the negligence of its doctors, in a reversal from settled maritime law. The appeals court noted that Royal Caribbean had touted its medical facilities in promotional materials, and that the medical staff wore Royal Caribbean uniforms. It also noted that most cruise ships today have very advanced medical care equipment, laboratories on board, and the technology to speak live with doctors on shore.

Thus, the court felt there was no longer any need to exempt cruise ships from medical malpractice claims.

Royal Caribbean, of course, disagrees with the ruling, feeling that cruise ships shouldn’t be punished for having advanced medical facilities on board. It contends it is not in the health care business; it’s in the travel/cruise business.

But the appeals court has thus far refused to reconsider their ruling. The United States Supreme Court court take the matter up in the future.

Proving Medical Malpractice On a Cruise

If the ruling stands, the key to proving a medical malpractice claim will be to demonstrate a “connection” between ship doctors and the cruise company. That shouldn’t be difficult, as most cruise lines spend money on maintaining full medical facilities, and many cruise line associations even require a ship to have medical staff on board.

The case opens the door to a new avenue of recovery, but one that should have been recognized a long time ago. Hopefully, it will also raise the level and quality of medical care provided on cruise ships as well.

Remember that you have rights as a passenger on a cruise ship, and if you’re injured as a cruise passenger, you want attorneys that understand the federal maritime laws. Talk to the Florida cruise ship attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your cruise injury case.

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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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