When a debilitating accident happens at sea, it can be difficult to understand what your rights are. Ship employees, who may seem to be helpful, may also be anxious to limit their own liability. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a cruise or passenger ship accident, don’t assume the cruise company has your best interest at heart. Instead, speak to a knowledgeable cruise ship accident lawyer to understand what your rights are under the law.
Jurisdiction Issues Cloud the Water
When it comes to cruise liners, it can be difficult to know where jurisdiction would lie in the event of a major calamity. For instance, if you are traveling to Europe and a devastating accident happens halfway there, it may be difficult to ascertain where a trial could be held.
Law on any ship starts with the ship’s flag state, or the country where it is registered. Many cruise ships are registered in countries other than the United States, where laws are less stringent. When you are aboard a ship in international waters, you must follow the laws of the country whose flag the ship flies.
There are some exceptions:
- Internal waters, such as harbors and ports, are considered territorial areas. When a ship is docked in the Port of Long Beach, California, U.S. laws apply to the ship, passengers and crew.
- Territorial waters typically extend up to 12 miles from permanently exposed land, with some exceptions. The laws of a country’s territorial waters apply onboard any ship within them.
- In a country’s contiguous zone, which is the area 12 miles to 24 miles from its coast, the nation can exert some rights, such as patrolling its borders or boarding ships suspected of smuggling drugs or other contraband.
- International waters are 24 miles from any country’s coastline. So, a Carnival cruise ship registered in Panama that is 25 miles off the coast of California is under Panamanian law.
However, when a crime is committed against an American on a cruise ship that either departs or arrives in a United States port, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation the may exercise Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (Section 7 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code).
American passengers who are injured in accidents aboard a cruise ship may file suit against a number of people: the owner of the cruise ship, the company that operates the cruise ship, the company that chartered the cruise ship, and the company that sold the ticket. However, an injury claim is subject to what are known as “forum selection clause” and “choice of law clause.”
The fine print on the back of your cruise ship ticket specifies the state in which an injury lawsuit must be filed, and the law that will apply. This information is essentially a contract between you and the cruise line. If you don’t file follow the specified rules, a court will probably refuse to hear your case. There may also be a requirement to provide notice to the cruise company within a certain period. Again, if you miss the deadline, the court may dismiss the suit.
Cruise Ship Liability
All cruise ships owe their passengers a duty of safe transportation. The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010 makes luxury liners a bit more accountable for what happens to passengers aboard their ship.
The act increases passenger security and cruise ship accountability on cruises through international waters, and includes the following provisions:
- All passengers must have access to a security guide outlining jurisdictional authority on that particular ship, processes for reporting crimes and missing U.S. citizens, and contact information for security, medical personnel, the FBI, U.S. Coast Guard, and local law enforcement in each port.
- Every stateroom must contain a document with the locations of the U.S. embassies or consulates in each port.
- Cruise ships with 250 passengers or more that embark or disembark anywhere in the U.S. must keep a log book recording all crimes and thefts valued over $1000.
- There must be personnel trained in sexual assault response, including anti-retroviral medications, proper collection and preservation of evidence, and knowledge of medical confidentiality provisions. In the event of sexual assault, victims must be given victim advocacy contact information, as well as law enforcement contact information.
- Cruise ships must also have at least one member of the crew trained in crime prevention, detection, evidence preservation and reporting criminal activities in the international maritime environment.
- The act also required safety systems and structural changes to keep passengers safe, and a publicly accessible website tracking cruise ship crime.
Finding Justice After a Cruise or Passenger Ship Accident
If you or a loved one suffers a debilitating accident on a cruise ship, don’t guess about your rights—contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney right away. With years of experience in this realm, TorkLaw can provide you with the information you need to get the justice and financial compensation you deserve. Contact us today at 888.845.9696 and learn what you can do when a cruise ship accident alters your life forever.