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.
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.