Accidents and tragedies are not exclusively a problem on land; they also occur on the high seas. Cruise ships have been the center of many controversies from lack of necessary safety procedures to inadequate emergency medical care. When these tragedies inevitably occur, injured victims can still obtain relief.
Cruise ships are considered “common carriers”, like buses, airplanes, and subways and metros. A “common carrier” is a person or public or private entity that transports people or goods for anyone willing to pay its fee. Ally Financial Inc. v. Pira, 96 N.E.3d 61, 71 (Ill. App. 2d Dist., 2017). As a common carrier, cruise ships are liable for personal injuries to passengers that were caused by its own negligence. Keokuk Northern Line Packet Co. v. True, 88 Ill. 608, 1878 WL 9945 (1878); Ward v. Northern Michigan Transp. Co., 175 Ill. App. 598, 1912 WL 2945 (1st Dist. 1912). In other words, cruise lines are liable for the injurious actions of its employees; this is called “vicarious liability.” For instance, an Illinois personal injury victim obtained a $38,000 award of damages for suffering permanent damage from an inattentive cruise ship employee running over their foot with a champagne dolly. McDonough v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 48 F.3d 256 (7th Cir. 1995). However, this liability does not mean the major cruise lines make it easy for its customers to raise personal injury claims. Instead, most cruise lines include liability-reducing provisions as conditions that consumers must accept in order to purchase their tickets and board the ship (“terms and conditions”).
One way cruise lines limit their liability for personal injuries is including a time limit provision in their terms and conditions which prevents injured victims from raising a claim after a certain amount of time has passed. Typically, these provisions state claims cannot be raised after more than 6 months or 1 year have passed since the alleged incident causing the injury. Thus, when planning to bring a personal injury claim, time is of the essence!
Another way cruise lines inevitably reduce their liability is through including forum selection clauses in their terms and conditions. These clauses restrict the jurisdictions under which its customers may bring personal injury claims against the cruise line. Ordinarily, these clauses will restrict the jurisdiction(s) to those in which the line has a headquarters or major offices since this is where most of their legal staff reside. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines includes a forum selection clause in its “Cruise Ticket Contract” that states personal injury claims may only be brought in a Miami-Dade County court in Florida. This can be inconvenient for the many cruise passengers who do not live in Miami-Dade County, much less in the state of Florida. However, it is possible for personal injury victims to obtain a transfer of their case to a court that is more conveniently for them if they can demonstrate that the forum selected was chosen to discourage victims from pursuing their claims, the cruise line used fraud or overreached in order to gain the victim’s acceptance of the clause, or the cruise line failed to provide the victim with sufficient notice of the clause’s existence. Carnival Cruise Lines v. Schute, 499 U.S. 585, 595 (1991). In order to show that the chosen jurisdiction would discourage victims from pursuing their claims, the victim must show that based on their circumstances, being forced to litigate their case in the selected jurisdiction would be so fundamentally unfair and/or inconvenient as to practically deprive them of their right to sue. Walker v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 889 N.E.2d 687, 696 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2008). Examples of such inconvenience include the severity of the victim’s disability, their poverty, and other public policy issues. Id. Mack v. Royal Caribbean Cruises provides an example of where such a clause has been found unenforceable in the case of Illinois residents. In Mack, a passenger cut his foot in the swimming pool area of the ship deck. 838 N.E.2d 80, 82 (Ill. App. 1st Dist., 2005). First, the Illinois court held that Royal Caribbean’s forum selection clause was not enforceable against Mack because he was not given proper notice of the clause prior to purchasing his ticket, and then was forced to sign a statement agreeing to unenumerated terms and conditions in order to board the ship. Id. at 82-84. Second, it was determined that Mack’s paralysis and financial hardships as a result of his injury made it unduly burdensome to pursue his claim in the selected jurisdiction, and he could instead continue his suit in an Illinois court. Id. at 84. Therefore, while the bar is set high for a transfer, there is still a real chance of the victim’s success in keeping their case in Illinois.
The first thing you should do if you’re a victim of a personal injury on a cruise ship is check your cruise line’s passenger contract for an injury report requirement and file the necessary documentation of your injury with the cruise line. The very next thing you should do is find a personal injury attorney to get started on building your case. Due to the time limitations on bringing such claims, there is no time to waste! Sherwood Law Group has experienced personal injury attorneys ready to get you the compensation you deserve. We offer all clients a free initial case consultation to evaluate your case, and we accept cases on a contingency basis. Call Sherwood Law Group today at 312-627-1650, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your free consultation!