Cruise Ship Accidents: How are Cruise Ships Regulated? Part 1

As a lawyer who sues cruises lines–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, MSC, Disney, and others–I am frequently asked who regulates cruise ships, as well as where and how are these rules enforced. In this multi-part post, we will examine a number of organizations around the world that are responsible for improving the safety and security of cruise ships, as well as assessing the limitations of each organization.   The International Maritime Organization: “Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans” It seems to me that most cruise lines are operating without governmental oversight, or else with very little. The work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) work is important because it creates a universal standard in the international maritime industry.1 The IMO was formerly known as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) until 1982.  Since cruise ships are often registered in one country, say the Bahamas, but port in countries all over the world, there should be a universal safety standard that applies to all ships for certain things such as the ratio of passenger capacity to lifeboats, sanitation, and fire protection. Otherwise, cruise lines could simply choose to follow the rules of countries with less stringent safety requirements, or none at all.   The IMO is an agency of the United Nations and is responsible for “measures” designed to improve the safety and security of cruise ships, as well as other vessels involved in international shipping, along with legal matters, including shipping accidents and claims. It was created in Geneva in 1948 and met for the first time in 1959. The IMO currently has 172 Member States...

Slippery Step Causes Cruise Ship Accident

One of the most common types of cruise ship accidents our maritime injury lawyers investigate occurs when people trip or slip on steps on cruise ships. One reason this occurs so frequently is that most cruise ships put a protective nosing–made of a metal wear strip with a rubber strip down the middle of it—on the exterior lip of a step to protect the step from wear and tear.  These nosings often encase lights, which are called tivoli lighting, and when they become loose, or deformed from use, they pose a significant tripping hazard–which can often result in people falling and breaking legs, arms, wrists, and sometime suffering severe head trauma and even brain damage. Yet it seems that every day I read about another injured cruise ship passenger’s lawsuit being dismissed because the injured passenger is unable to prove that the cruise line had “notice” of the dangerous condition that caused the accident.   For example, this week, in a case handled by another cruise ship accident law firm, Myrna Taiariol reportedly slipped on a step aboard MSC’s Divina, while leaving the Pantheon Theatre, causing her to fall and break her ankle. She filed a lawsuit against the cruise line and asserted one count of negligence. In her complaint she asserted that MSC negligently failed to warn of the step’s “dangerous, slippery, and unsafe condition.” According to the court’s records, Ms. Taiariol and her husband had attended several shows at the theatre while aboard the Divina. During one show, Ms. Taiariol sat in the front row of the balcony, which required her to take a step up to...

Cruise Ship Accident: Toxic Cruise Ships

Can your cruise ship kill you? New concerns have been raised about the potential toxic quality of the air on a cruise ship. Recently, the German environmental association, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), studied air quality on passenger cruise ships and found that people could be inhaling “60 times higher concentrations of harmful air pollutants” than they would in natural air settings.   This supports the position of the German Lung Association, which has long warned cruise ship passengers against staying on deck or inhaling a cruise ship’s exhaust gas from smokestacks, caused by the combustion of marine diesel fuel and heavy oil, as those fumes may trigger acute irritations for passengers who are already suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD.   The French documentary television series Thalassa went undercover and secretly measured the air quality on board a cruise ship just after it had left Marseilles, France.  According to news reports, it tested the air using NABU’s facilities and discovered toxic concentrations of ultrafine particles registering more than 200 times higher than would be found in fresh air and 20 times worse than in congested port cities with heavy traffic.  Although measurements were obtained throughout the ship, the sun deck and jogging lanes were found to have the worst air quality. According to NABU’s website, its CEO Leif Miller has said, “Ship owners expose their passengers to high loads of health damaging pollutants. Actually nobody can call this a fresh sea breeze any longer, facing 200-fold higher particle concentrations on deck of a cruise ship. Despite these shocking data, major parts of the cruise industry are refusing...

The Battle of Expert Witnesses in Cruise Ship Accident Claims

One of the raging battles in the litigation war injured passengers are forced to wage against cruise lines involves the expert witnesses. How and when the Plaintiff discloses the experts to the cruise line can often mean the difference between winning or losing. The rules that govern the use of experts in Federal Court, where cruise ship passenger accident and injury cases are heard, are complex and unforgiving. Take for instance the case of Joyce Higgs, which is being handled by another maritime law firm.1Joyce D. Higgs v. Costa Crociere S.p.A. Company. Case N. 15-60280-CIV-COHN/SELTZER. Entered on FLSD Docket 01/12/2016. Ms. Higgs, an elderly passenger, was injured after tripping over a cleaning bucket in the buffet line aboard the Costa Luminosa during a Christmas cruise. Costa denied that she fell over the bucket, and she filed a lawsuit against Costa, which is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines. Her suit was filed nearly two years ago and is still pending. HOW TO PROVE AN INJURY CLAIM AGAINST A CRUISE LINE Under Federal maritime law, ship owners owe the duty of exercising “reasonable care” towards passengers.2Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 630 (1959).  However, whenever a passenger claims that he or she was injured by a dangerous condition on a cruise ship, this “standard of care” requires that before a cruise ship can be held accountable for the injury, it must be shown that the cruise line actually created, knew, or should have known of the dangerous condition,3Long v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 982 F. Supp. 2d 1313, 1317 (S.D. Fla. 2013). which in this case was the cleaning bucket...

Cruise Ship Accidents: Carnival Cruise Line’s Number One Secret Weapon

As a lawyer who sues cruise lines–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America, and others–on behalf of people who have been injured on a cruise ship, I cringe every time I read about a legitimately injured passenger who gets caught by the number-one secret weapon cruise lines use to win their cases: the one-year statute of limitations and venue selection clauses buried in the passenger cruise ticket. Thanks to Congress, cruise lines have been able to legally shorten the normal statute of limitations that would apply to any typical maritime accident from three years to one year.1 Congress specifically authorized cruise lines to shorten the limitations periods for providing notice of suits and for filing suits by inserting a reasonable limitation period into their passage contracts. See 46 U.S.C. § 183b(a). Cruise lines understand that few if any of their passengers read their passenger cruise tickets, or if they do read them, even fewer understand the complex legal mumbo jumbo they contain.  People are understandably more interested in finding the midnight buffet and booking facials than figuring out how, when, and where to sue the cruise line if they get hurt. I read case opinions week after week where well-intentioned lawyers who do not regularly sue cruise lines mistakenly believe they can sue a cruise line like Carnival in their local state courthouse or after the one-year statute has passed. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a Federal court excuse the failure to follow the cruise lines’ requirements of filing in Federal Court within one year; rather, I see case after case dismissed before ever getting...

Suing a Cruise Line: When a Cruise Line Destroys Evidence

One of the single most important pieces of evidence that can and should be used in litigating an accident case against a cruise line–like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or Norwegian–comes from the closed circuit television (CCTV) that most major cruise lines have installed onboard their ships. The existence of CCTV footage, and what it shows, is often hotly contested in these types of cases. Carnival and MSC, for instance, repeatedly claim they do not have CCTV footage, even when there are clearly video cameras identified at or near the scene of a slip, trip, and fall or other type of incident. Royal and Norwegian have the videos, but often produce edited versions with low quality.   The reason the CCTV footage is so important in a slip and fall case is not just to prove that the passenger actually fell and was hurt, but to show how long the alleged dangerous condition, such as a spilled liquid or broken handrail on a staircase, had existed. This is vitally important to prove that the cruise line either knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the accident. Unfortunately, getting hold of this video from defendant cruise lines almost always requires a lawsuit to be filed and some legal jostling between our law firm and the cruise line, often with intervention from a federal judge or magistrate. Recently in a case against Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which was handled by another law firm that sues cruise lines, an injured passenger tried to have RCCL sanctioned for destroying CCTV footage pertinent to that cruise ship passenger’s accident lawsuit.¹ The case...
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