Miami is home to more cruise ships than any other port and is known as the “Cruise Capitol Of The World.” Several cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean port their largest vessels in Miami. Taking a cruise on a large ship with hundreds of other passengers, like any other large-scale excursion or event, presents the opportunity for accidents and crime.
Cruise ships which depart from U.S. ports are considered “common carriers” under the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. §1702(6). Entities that own or possess property have a duty to protect users and occupants from the negligent and intentional acts of third parties. Common carriers owe their passengers a heightened duty of care in protecting them from physical harm, which includes protection from the criminal actions of crew members as well as guests and passengers.
In 2010, legislation was enacted which required cruise lines to report all crimes aboard cruise ships to the FBI, as well as take actions to protect crime victims. Cruise lines that make port in the U.S. are required to report crimes including homicides, assaults that result in serious injuries, sexual assaults and thefts of more the $10,000 to the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The seriousness of the crimes on cruise ships ranges from minor theft to rape. Sexual assault is the crime that occurs most on cruise ships and is usually grossly underreported. In 2014 alone, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian reported a total of 61 alleged rapes and other sexual assaults. Since only a theft of more than $10,000 is required to be reported to the FBI or Coast Guard, many petty thefts are never reported.
Onboard each ship, cruise lines are required to include medical staff capable of collecting forensic evidence, as well as provide medical care for sexual assault victims. Also, cruise ships are now required to observe stricter safety rules and take appropriate compliant measures. Poor security on the premises of cruise ships account for many criminal assaults and other violent crimes on cruise ships. Many of these crimes are the result of negligent or inadequate security personnel, or inadequate lighting and security equipment.
Potential cruise line passengers should realize that signing a ticket for passage issued by the cruise line embodies a contract setting forth the terms of the cruise. These contract terms usually limit passenger rights, including the type of claim, choice of forum, and the limitation period for any claim brought against the cruise line. The venue for bringing claims is typically Miami, which can create more then inconvenience for out-of-state residents that choose a cruise line for vacation. Typically, out-of-state, or at least out-of-town, residents are passengers on these Florida-based cruise ships. As a South-Florida based attorney, I can assist both local and out-of-town cruise ship passengers that require representation for claims against a cruise line.
Especially worth noting is that any claim is usually subject to a one year limitation period for filing suit, typically a limitation period shorter than that under Florida law for similar claims “on land.” Note that a cruise line may not force passengers to sign waivers that immunize the cruise lines from any and all responsibility for injuries or death caused by negligence or other causes that are the fault of the company.
Recent increases in the rate of crime aboard cruise ships has caused Florida prosecutors to assert jurisdiction over these cruise ship crimes. If you have been injured as a passenger onboard a cruise ship and have questions about possible claims under Florida law, call Alan Fowler, a Florida Keys attorney experienced in dealing with claims against cruise ship lines, for a consultation at 305.417.9378.