Florida is home to some of the busiest cruise ports in the world. State residents and world travelers alike converge on places like Miami and Tampa Bay, ready to head out across the ocean to exotic destinations. And when you’re on a luxurious cruise, half the fun of getting to those destinations is the journey itself.
But as is true with any other type of location, accidents and injuries can happen aboard cruise ships if certain circumstances allow for it. In fact, because cruises offer such an array of activities and entertainment options for their guests, from intricate swimming pools to crowded theaters for live shows, it may be even more liable for injury to occur aboard the high seas.
And yet, when you’re preparing to leave on a cruise vacation, the last thing you’re likely thinking about is what you’ll do if you suffer a serious injury while on board. But cruise ships laws and regulations operate a bit differently than laws and regulations on dry land. If you’re injured aboard a cruise, it’s important to understand what to do, and what your legal options are.
Cruise Ship Rules and Laws
Because cruise ships most often sail the oceans of the world, or across “international waters,” they operate under the rules of the International Maritime Organization. Under this organization, each and every cruise ship is required to develop a specific series of safety management systems. And under these systems is a strict requirement that all injury accidents aboard the ship involve specific investigation and reporting.
That’s good news for you, as a potentially injured passenger, because it means the cruise line is required to follow certain procedures when someone is injured, rather than just turning a blind eye or immediately trying to blame your injury on someone else (though they may still attempt this at some point). So if you are injured, you have every right to insist that the cruise line enact upon and document your situation appropriately.
If your injuries were caused by the negligence of another person or by some facet of the cruise itself, and your injuries or other traumas are severe enough that you intend to file a lawsuit against the responsible party, it’s important to remember that most cruises operate according to maritime law. This can mean that laws that apply on land may not necessarily apply at sea—even if you’re not filing your lawsuit until you arrive back home. Where and how the injury aboard the cruise ship occurred are heavy factors in how your case may play out. This why it’s so important to recruit the help of a Florida personal injury lawyer who understands maritime law, as well as what can really happen aboard cruise ships.
Types of Injuries Suffered on Cruise Ships
Many people assume the only risks they face aboard cruise ships are falling overboard or contracting a virus from the thousands of other passengers you’re sharing a finite space with. While these certainly can happen, they’re far from the only accident or injury scenarios possible. Accidents and even crimes happen aboard cruise ships just as they do anywhere else.
As mentioned, cruise ships come with an array of exciting activities. Waterslides, wave pools, zip lines, rock wall climbing, and even ice skating are all common offerings. And the common factor between each of these offerings is that they come with assumed risks. That’s why, if you decide to participate in them, cruise lines will often ask you to sign some kind of form that states you acknowledge and accept that assumption of risk. This is in an effort to release the cruise line from liability should you suffer an injury while participating, and it often does—but not always.
Other common accidents and injuries that have been known to occur aboard cruise ships include:
- Slip or trip and falls. This can be over strewn objects, on wet surfaces, on haphazard layouts or construction, and even amidst large groups of other cruise patrons or staff.
- Elevator, escalator, or staircase accidents. Elevators and escalators can malfunction, causing injuries, and if staircases or stairwells aren’t appropriately built, maintained, or have clear warnings about potential hazards, can also can injury.
- Broken or malfunctioning equipment. Cruise ships have a lot of moving parts and elements to them. There’s always potential for any one of them to cause an issue, like pool or sports equipment, furniture, electric systems, water systems, and more.
- Ship fires. Any fire that can occur in a home, business, or other setting is liable to happen aboard a cruise ship as well. But these instances can become even more dangerous when there’s less space available to escape the fire.
Many of the above accident scenarios can fall under the legalities of premises liability, or those instances when the location itself has posed a foreseeable or preventable hazard that should have been addressed in order to prevent injury from occurring.
What to Do After Suffering an Injury on a Cruise Ship
No matter how minor any injury you suffer might seem, you should always go to the medical office aboard the ship and have it treated. Doing so helps to prevent complications from happening, and also ensures your injury is documented by medical staff. The medical office will either have the means to treat your injury, or the ability to call for additional medical services, like a helicopter evacuation, if needed.
When you go to the onboard medical office, you will also likely have the option to file a report of the incident. This should, in turn, automatically trigger an investigation into how your injury occurred. And if your injuries are severe enough that you’re going to open a claim or file a lawsuit, this investigation is important. And your role in the investigation is important to.
First, you want to make sure you stay active in the investigation on your own behalf. Ask for any medical records created as a result of treating your injuries and keep them for your own records. Also be mindful about the statements you decide to give about your accident to the cruise staff. Be honest about how your injury happen, but don’t be so quick to take all the blame for it if you truly believe extenuating circumstances contributed. Cruise lines will often ask injured passengers to make a written statement as well, but don’t feel pressured into writing one if your pain or discomfort makes it difficult. Even if the staff insists, keep your statement brief. Include a description of how you feel and why you believe the cruise ship or another passenger is responsible for your injury.
After injuries have been treated and statements made, the investigation isn’t over. The cruise line is likely going to keep investigating things on their own behalf, and you should be sure to do the same if you’re able. Take photos of your injuries, as well as where the accident occurred. Ask any potential witnesses for statements and contact information. Remember, once your vacation ends and you leave the ship, it will be nearly impossible to retrieve any additional physical evidence.
When you’re back on dry land, don’t wait to report the incident to the proper U.S. authorities further. Your local police department or branch of the FBI are a good place to start. Failing to report your incident in a timely manner as well as to the correct authorities could lead to issues with statutes of limitation and jurisdiction later on. You should also seek out help of a personal injury attorney as soon as you get home. They can advise you on where to further report your accident, help you understand what your options for moving forward are, and explain the steps that will need to be taken in that process.
The Whisler Law Firm has decades of experience with an array of personal injury scenarios. Serving the entire state of Florida means we’re familiar with cruise ship injuries and the difficulties they can pose. So don’t hesitate to call our office at 833-529-5677 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with our team.