Articles Posted in Crew Member Claims

A Florida court recently heard an appeal in a cruise ship personal injury case. However, rather than the more common personal injury case brought by a passenger, this case was being brought by a gentleman who was working under contract to conduct art auctions on cruise ships. A Serbian national and resident, the plaintiff brought the suit against the company he was working for, alleging that he injured his back while working. He initially filed the suit with the Miami-Dade circuit court, but the court dismissed the case pursuant to a mandatory forum selection clause.

Relevant to the case at hand, the forum selection clause stated that all legal proceedings, brought by either party, relating to the contract were to be brought in the Turks and Caicos Islands, except that the defendant company could sue in other forums if it was in pursuit of obtaining an injunction as related to the confidentiality and non-compete provisions of the contract.

On appeal, the court found the mandatory forum selection clause passed the legal test as being valid and enforceable because it did not believe that the forum was unjust and unreasonable so as to constitute no forum at all. Specifically, the court found that because the Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Territory and are thus a part of the British common law system, therefore any necessary appeals would come to the highest courts of the United Kingdom. The court stated its opinion that these courts were certainly capable of reviewing the relevant evidence and determining the applicability of relevant law. Thus, it did not find that the courts constituted “no forum at all.”

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Closeup of assorted coins.

In our last post we discussed the process of filing a claim against a cruise line. This post will delve into  settlements. There is actually a lot involved with settlements in any case. Upfront, however, please be aware that often times cruise lines will not settle without a reason. In obvious liability cases, the cruise line operator may realize that the odds are against them. Other times, companies may settle as a business decision. However, that decision depends on the injuries involved, vialibility of the legal theories at issue. At times, the public may think that because they read about a court settlement that the cruise line company will just fold. What they do not always realize is that many settlements dont even happen until hours and hours of work take place. Sometimes, the cruiseline companies may settle just before trial.  Cases can even settle during a trial or before the case is presented to a jury.

If you seek to bring a personal injury claim against a cruise line company  you should always hire an experienced attorney for your best chances of receiving a fair and just settlement. The maritime attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz PA are here to help. Our attorneys know the relevant laws and value of personal injury claims while representing cruise ship passengers and crewmembers that are injured.

On October 1, 2015, a freighter ship by the name of El Fargo sank in 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas. All 33 of its crewmembers died in the sinking. In Florida, a family of a now deceased crewmember filed a lawsuit under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as theJones Act,” against the captain and owner of the ship, Michael Davidson. The freighter ship departed from Jacksonville, Florida en route to Puerto Rico carrying cars and other cargo. The ship eventually lost power to its engine and failed to avoid a category four hurricane. The Florida wrongful death lawsuit filed against the ship’s owner and captain demands $100 million in damages. Basically, the captain and owner of the freighter ship negligently decided to sail the 41-year-old freighter ship into the dangerous storm, putting all passengers’ and crewmembers’ lives at great risk.                  

First, however, to be protected under the Jones Act, the worker must establish that he is a seaman. A seaman is a person who spends a large amount of time working as a captain or as a crewmember on a vessel that is considered to be in navigation. If you or your loved one is an injured crewmember or captain, it is imperative that you hire an experienced maritime lawyer to establish your entitlement to legal protections under the Jones Act. The maritime attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA provide legal representation for seriously injured crewmembers and ship employees. For over 40 years, our lawyers have litigated these complex claims. Our personal injury law firm will fight for your legal rights.

Your Rights under the Jones Act

If a crew member is hurt on the job while at sea, do they have to file a workers compensation claim? This is a question asked to our team of experienced Miami maritime lawyers quite often by injured cruise ship workers and their loved ones. The answer is that crew members do not use the traditional workers compensation system that land-based workers may access. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, is a federal legislation that aims to protect seamen’s rights in cases of on-board accidents or death. Pursuant to this act, compensation can be claimed by a workman employed in a marine vessel when an injury is brought upon by the careless act of an employer or co-worker in course of his employment. Vessel owners can likewise be liable if the accident occurred due to dangerous conditions on the ship.

However, for sailors to acquire damages under the Jones Act, they must give adequate verification that they are, indeed, seamen. Federal courts have deciphered the term “sailor” to mean a person who is employed in a vessel or fleet that operates in waterways used for national or international commerce, or in other words, operates in navigable waters. As long as the person is engaged in some kind of work that is related with the vessel’s objective, the relative significance of the sailor’s expected set of job responsibilities is not critical.

The most common injuries incurred by crew members while on duty aboard a cruise liner are:

On July 24, 2014 a senate Committee Hearing chaired by retiring Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, illustrated the necessity for better enforcement of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act 0f 2010Act. The Bill S. 1340, known as the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, perfects the intent of congress in passing the 2010 legislation. Despite, efforts made by the cruise lines to thwart the passage of this legislation, crime victim advocates and personal injury attorneys such as Miami based lawyer, Philip M. Gerson of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. still pursue justice for passengers on the high seas. Mr. Gerson addressed congress detailing the negligent behavior of the cruise line industry and its trade group, Cruise Lines Industry Association, commonly referred to as CLIA. Mr. Gerson illustrated how cruise ship owners suppress the facts, rather than honestly report them to their passengers. These organizations and individuals alike, boast that its passengers are safer at sea, when this is clearly not the case.

At the senate hearing Mr. Gerson emphasized, how ship security is on board to protect the ship owners, not their passenger customers. Moreover, he pointed out how the legal relationship between the passenger and the cruise line is deliberately written in a way that is difficult to understand. Due to the fact, that the contractual terms which individuals sign are printed in tiny font and using legal and maritime terms that cannot be understood by the average person who takes a cruise, the rights of crime victims on board a cruise are often signed away before they even embark.

The compelling stories of three witnesses who spoke at this hearing demonstrated how difficult it has been for victims to seek or obtain protection before, or assistance after, violent and brutal crimes such as rape and sexual assault occur. Mr. Gerson continued to express deep concern for women and children who are unsafe while at sea. These vulnerable populations in particular are targeted by sexual predators often including crew members hired to work on board the ship. Sometimes, individuals hired as security guards who passengers understandably believe are on board to protect guests are the very ones who are committing these heinous crimes. More importantly, there is absolutely no police protection, on board these floating cities, and so defenseless passengers are left to protect themselves.

Our Cruise Ship Attorneys have dedicated their decades of experience to representing cruise ship passengers that are injured by the acts or omissions of the cruise ship industry and its employees. However, as this blog has mentioned recently, it is sometimes a cruise ship’s crew that is injured by the negligence of a cruise company.

Late last week, the BBC published a report proclaiming that Brazilian law enforcement authorities had boarded a ship belonging to MSC Crociere as it was docked at the city of Salvador, as part of a month-long investigation into allegations of labor abuses. The investigation was launched following a tip-off from MSC crew members claiming that they had been forced to work up to 16 hours a day and some subjected to sexual harassment. According to the story, Brazilian officials said the eleven crew members were working in “slave-like conditions.”

Brazilian Labor Ministry director Alexandre Lyra commented, “The fact that they had signed a contract, even an international contract, does not mean that the basic human rights should not be respected.” In response to the allegations, MSC issued a statement, “MSC Crociere is in full compliance with national and international labour regulations and is ready to co-operate with the authorities.”

Our Florida Maritime Attorneys have dedicated their decades of experience to representing cruise ship passengers that are injured by the acts or omissions of the cruise ship industry and its employees. However, as this blog discussed last month, on occasion, it is one of the cruise ship’s crew that is injured by the negligence of a cruise company.

Generally, cruise ship crew members who are injured on the job are protected by the provisions of the “Jones Act,” as long as they fall under the legal definition of “seamen.” The Jones Act provides that a seaman that is injured as the result of the negligence of an employer or co-worker on a vessel may recover two different types of financial compensation from their employer known as “maintenance” and “cure” benefits. “Maintenance” requires the cruise line to continue paying a crew member wages in the event an on-the-job injury prevents the individual from being physically able to work, while “Cure” is the obligation of the cruise line to provide a crew member with medical care in the event an injury is sustained in the course of employment.

Recently, the protections offered to cruise crew members by the Jones Act have been threatened by proposed legislation, H.R. 4005. Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 6, 2014, H.R. 4005, entitled the “Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014”, for the most part, regulates various aspects of how the Coast Guard conducts its business.

Once again, Carnival cruise line braces itself for some hard questioning and strong reaction from the public, after one of its vessels, the Carnival Triumph, wound up stranded in the Gulf of Mexico . This is the result of yet, another engine room fire, which left cruise ship passengers without very basic needs including: food, water, toilets, and power. Needless to say, passengers are disgruntled and Carnival is under fire by news agencies, and thousands of individuals concerned about the safety of cruising.

Carnival has not yet answered the looming question as to what caused a fire on the 14 year old ship which was based in Galveston, Texas. While the Costa Concordia ship wreck last year, is reminiscent of this incident, fortunately there were no casualties or incidents on the Carnival Triumph, like there were on the Concordia. So, why do there continue to be fires on ships, leaving passengers stranded in the ocean, sometimes ship wrecked for days?
One of the more recent forms of injury on board cruises results from extremely high numbers of sexual assaults that occur on cruise ships. Most often, these forms of crimes are committed against passengers by crew members. Cruise ship guidelines are not clear cut regarding background checks on employees, especially those who are hired overseas. Although, Carnival and many of the other major cruise lines are based in cities like Miami, Fl and Ft. Lauderdale, Fl the crew itself are from foreign countries and screening these people is difficult and not without major loop holes.

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Passengers of the ill-fated Costa Concordia, along with Italian businesses damaged by the cruise ship’s grounding on January 13, 2012, have begun to file lawsuits in American courts against Miami-based Carnival Corporation, the parent company of the Italian firm (Costa Crociere) that owns the Costa Concordia. Attorneys representing the injured parties assert that Costa Crociere is merely Carnival’s ‘alter ego,’ making Carnival liable for the injuries, deaths, and property losses that occurred. According to an Associated Press report of September 17th, the suing parties hail from 14 countries, including the U.S. Monetary damages sought in the new U.S.-based lawsuits reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

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Late last week, on its approach to the Faroe Islands port of Klaksvik, Royal Caribbean cruise ship Jewel of the Seas struck an aerial cable that links the Islands of Bordoy and Eysturoy. The ship’s mast was damaged, and a crew member was heavily battered by falling debris. The cause of the Jewel of the Seas accident has yet to be determined, but an investigation, now pending in consultation with local authorities, will inevitably attempt to identify any faulty decisions or operating procedures that led not only to the cable collision, but also to the dislodging of items that ultimately struck the vulnerable crew member. Maritime accident law will then govern any damage claims that are pursued.

Anticipating questions about possible navigation error, Florida-based Royal Caribbean International issued a statement, reported in the September 6, 2012 edition of USA Today, insisting that all available navigation information, including information received from the Klaksvik harbor master, had pointed to the ship’s clear passage under the cable. This assertion, however, is not likely to put navigational concerns to rest, coming only months after the fatal grounding of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which, it is now known, was triggered by disastrously bad navigation decisions.

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