Do Cruise Lines Care More about Profits Than Passenger Safety ?

Passengers Badly Rattled As Cruise Ships Ventured Through Superstorm Sandy

As Americans continue to tune into coverage of the massive land damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, it may be inconceivable to many that cruise ship operators did not uniformly cancel Florida-based cruises that were set to sail into or near the well-mapped hurricane. Yet, while some cruise operators made the sound decision not to expose cruise passengers to the risks of Sandy, others directed their ships to proceed full steam ahead, with only minor course adjustments, arguing that modern cruise ships’ elaborate stabilization systems would protect them from the ravages of severely rough seas and exposing them to any accident or injuries. Unfortunately, top-heavy floating resorts proved no match for Sandy, and passengers trapped on these during the hurricane ended up witnessing frightening chaos and destruction.

The Show Must Go On, Say Cruise Operators

The October 29, 2012 edition of the Salisbury Post recounted the experience of a North Carolina family whose cruise on Disney’s Fantasy put them into the path of the storm. That account credits the ship’s captain with charting a course that avoided the fiercest zone of the hurricane, and with warning passengers to stay in their cabins; but it also conveys the great anxiety suffered by the family when it realized that “anything not bolted to the walls or floors was sliding side to side,” and that “deck chairs had crashed through doors.” Ultimately, said the mother of this family, one had to resort to faith in God in order to survive the terrifying ordeal.

At the time superstorm Sandy was brewing, the Bradley family of Cascade, Iowa, was scheduled to sail from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean on Disney’s Dream. According to coverage by KWWL TV in Iowa, the Bradleys tried to cancel their cruise reservations when they learned of the impending storm, but they were told by Disney that they would not receive a refund if they cancelled, and that they should rest assured that the cruise would safely avoid the path of the storm. Thus pressured to sail, the Bradleys traveled to Florida and boarded ship, but only hours after setting sail, the ship began to experience direct effects of the hurricane. According to the news report, the Bradleys watched unanchored objects rain down from shelves, and felt their cabins rattling. The severe rocking of the ship caused the Bradleys’ grandson to fall out of bed. Mrs. Bradley told KWWL that Disney “should have canceled instead of putting our lives in danger out there in 20 foot swells.”


Cruise Lines Pushed to Own Up to Passenger Endangerment

Thus far, no reports have emerged of physical injuries incurred by passengers whose cruise ships sailed into the path of Sandy, but, said a commentator in the October 29 edition of International Business Times, “the incident, nevertheless, raises questions about the cruise industry’s policies during a hurricane.”

Miami, Florida based maritime lawyers Gerson & Schwartz, are currently representing other passengers that have been injured in similar instances. In a recent lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the Sourthern District of Florida, a Royal Caribean passenger was injured after heading out to sea in gale force conditions and 30-40 foot seas. According to Miami based maritime lawyer Nicholas I. Gerson, cruise line operators either are not just negligent but are clearly reckless and putting innocent passengers in harms way. Gerson believes the issue is that they would rather risk a few law suits than to have to give passengers full refunds in order to make more profits. This is not the first time this has happened. In late 2010, under public pressure, Royal Caribbean agreed to provide a full refund and on-board credit to passengers who had been subjected to severe ship movement during a cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas, which had sailed through violently heavy seas on its approach to Alexandria, Egypt. During that episode, a number of passengers suffered broken bones when furniture and broken glass flew across the ships’ surfaces. Just a few months ago, 17 injured passengers who, in 2006, reportedly “endured a nightmare voyage across the Atlantic when their cruise ship was lashed by high winds” (See Plymouth Herald, July 21, 2012) filed suit against Classic International Cruises and Arcalia Shipping Company, on grounds that these companies’ decision to dispatch a cruise ship in severe weather constituted negligence, and that the warnings provided to passengers, in light of the heavy weather, were inadequate. Cases like these rest on the longstanding principle that shipowners owe a duty of reasonable care to their passengers, and that known severe weather conditions are circumstances that heighten the levels of care and precaution that are required.

That said, it is to be expected that cruise line operators will do all that they can to minimize their responsibility for weather-related injuries to passengers; and they may even attempt to disclaim liability, in their ticket terms, for these types of injuries. This makes it imperative for anyone who has experienced injury or other trauma during a cruise that ventured into dangerously rough seas to seek the assistance of counsel who knows exactly how to approach this complex area of cruise passengers’ rights. For information on how the attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz may be able to assist, please contact us at (305) 371-6000 or at info@gslawusa.com.

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