Many of the same kinds of crimes and accidents that occur on land can also occur on cruise ships. A cruise line may be held liable for:

  • Injuries
  • Medical malpractice by the ship’s doctors or nurses
  • Negligence for poor health conditions causing illness

The major types of crimes that occur on a cruise ship disembarking from the United States include sexual assault, theft, tampering with the vessel, assault, kidnapping and homicide.

If I Get Sick on a Cruise Ship, Can I Sue?

You may have heard horror stories of people getting horribly sick on cruise lines. As with any personal injury case, whether a cruise ship is liable for your illness depends on whether the cruise line, or its employees, were somehow negligent, and whether that negligence caused your illness.

What Are Some Common Illnesses Caused by Negligence?

There are many types of illnesses that can result from being in the close proximity to many people and by eating food that is produced on a large scale. Illnesses that are most common include:

These illnesses can be relatively mild (food poisoning or norovirus) to life-threatening illnesses (Legionnaire’s Disease).
 
Food poisoning on a cruise ship is often the result of negligence, such as a sick chef who didn’t wash his hands before preparing the food.  Norovirus spreads like the common cold and can be spread by contaminated food and water.
 
Legionnaire’s disease, the most serious of those listed above, has a fatality rate of 15%. People who survive Legionnaire’s disease can feel the ill effects for years after. Legionnaire’s disease is caused by bacteria that grows in hot water. If a person contracts it from a cruise ship, it’s often the result of negligence (such as not sufficiently heating the cruise ship pool or hot tub).

What Are Some Other Ways a Cruise Ship Can Be Sued?

A cruise ship is considered a common carrier just like an airplane or train. For this reason, a cruise line has a duty to make sure that all passengers reach their destination safely. The cruise ship and the employees must take reasonable steps to ensure the cruise ship is safe for all guests and passengers. While the specifics of this duty may vary from state to state, generally a cruise ship must act reasonably to prevent harm to its passengers. This reasonable care standard covers protecting passengers from accidents and from crime.
 
Nevertheless, many accidents occur every year on cruise ships, mostly involving trip or slip and falls. Different types of falls can occur, such as falling down stairs, falling off the deck, or falling overboard due to a faulty rail. Whether the cruise line is liable depends on various factors. For example, if you fell down the stairs, did you slip on water that the crew knew was on the floor but failed to clean up? If you fell overboard, was the railing improperly secured on the boat? These types of additional factors must be assessed in order to determine whether cruise ship liability exists.

Can the Cruise Line Limit Its Liability?

Most cruise lines have a contract with their guests that may limit the cruise line's liability or limit the states in which a lawsuit may be brought against a cruise line. Often the terms of such contracts are printed on the passenger ticket. To see if you can get around these provisions, contact an attorney.

What If the Incident Occurs Outside the United States?

The most difficult part about suing a cruise line is that cruise liners will hide behind admiralty and maritime law, which often involves international law. The most egregious part about cruise ship liability is the use of forum selection clauses to move the case outside the reach of American courts. An attorney can keep a case inside the United States where the victims have the best chance of success. 

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you have been injured on a cruise ship, a personal injury attorney can help you recover damages for your medical expenses and pain and suffering. If you have been the victim of a crime on a cruise ship, contact the ship’s security office, as well as the police.