Can paying passengers bring a personal injury claim against a boat or cruise ship operator?

Paying passengers who are injured on a boat or cruise may bring a lawsuit against the boat owner if the owner's negligence caused the injury.

However, such suits may be limited by the terms of the passenger's ticket, which is considered the contract for passage. For example, the terms of the ticket may limit the amount of time within which lawsuits can be brought, require the injured passenger to give the boat owner notice of an injury within a certain period of time, and/or provide that a lawsuit must be filed in a certain location.

The contractual terms on a passenger ticket is critical and controlling in most circumstances. In consideration of payment, the passenger receives a written contract of passage. This contract has generated many cases relating to the enforceability of its many provisions. The enforceability of the contract terms on the ticket depends on the clarity of the ticket and whether adequate notice was given to the passenger of the fact that the ticket was indeed a contract. The issue of reasonable notice is a question of law for the judge to decide. The judge must determine whether the warning language in the passenger ticket is reasonably communicative and therefore legally binding and enforceable. The language on the cruise ticket must notify the passenger that the terms printed elsewhere on the ticket form a binding contract that has an effect on legal rights. The format of the ticket is critical, including the positioning of the notice to the passenger that the ticket actually contains provisions that affects a passenger’s legal rights.

It is important to note that neither a cruise passenger’s failure, or inability to read the ticket, nor someone else’s actual possession of the cruise ticket. voids a contractual limitation contained in the ticket itself. Although many cruise tickets have a line for the passenger to sign, the signature is not necessary for the formation of a binding contract. The passenger’s acceptance and use of the ticket implies assent to the contractual provisions on the ticket.

The forum selection clauses on cruise tickets are enforceable. The cruise passenger has a very heavy burden in trying to set aside a forum selection clause on the grounds of inconvenience.

The most critical contractual limitation on a passenger’s cruise ticket is the provision regarding the time to file a lawsuit. Most tickets contain a provision that the holder has one year in which to file a lawsuit. In Florida, negligence claims may be brought within four years; however, the courts have held that that Florida’s statute of limitation does not apply to passenger injury claims.

Common injuries on a cruise ship, include:

  • Slip/Trip and fall accidents,
  • Unsafe stairways,
  • Elevator accidents,
  • Swimming pool accidents,
  • Open hatches,
  • Unsafe doors,
  • Drownings,
  • Fires,
  • Explosions,
  • Inadequate Security,
  • Assaults,
  • Physical assault by cruise ship employee,
  • Sexual assault by cruise ship employee,
  • Physical assault by other passengers,
  • Sexual assault by other passengers,
  • Food poisoning (salmonella, etc.),
  • Inadequate ship maintenance,
  • Head injuries,
  • Spinal injuries,
  • Medical negligence,
  • Other serious cruise ship injuries.

A passenger on a cruiseliner who has suffered an injury may be able to recover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

If a passenger dies while on board a cruise line, a wrongful death claim may be filed. However, when an accident occurs more than three nautical miles from a U.S. shore, including in waters of foreign countries, and results in death, the Death On The High Seas Act (DOHSA) applies. Different laws apply to someone who has died while out at sea.

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