You’re Not Getting Me on One of Those Ships!

Because I represent people who get injured on cruise ships and ferries, I’ve been getting lots of questions lately about the safety of going to sea on large ships. Interestingly enough, many of these inquiries started coming in around the time of the Costa Concordia disaster. In a nutshell, I generally tell people that cruising is a very safe form of travel and vacationing. Although I’m not a travel industry expert, I deal with the other end of matters… when passengers have problems that involve their legal rights.

What happened on January 13, 2012 in the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Costa Concordia was an aberration from standard operating procedures. The ship was knowingly taken off its planned course to make a sail-by salute to people on Isola del Giglio. Things went wrong when the 114,000 ton vessel came too close to shore, subsequently striking submerged rocks. This resulted in flooding that caused the ship to capsize, with tragic consequences. The disaster could have been even worse if the quick-thinking crew had not driven the ship into shallow water, thereby preventing a total sinking.

There have been other incidents on the high seas involving cruise ships that could make people think twice about the safety of these vessels. These have included passengers being injured as a result of large ocean waves. In recent years, a cruise ship ran aground and sank in the southern Aegean Sea. Another sank after being punctured by an iceberg in colder latitudes. There have been fires aboard cruise ships. There have been operational errors that led to severe rolling, causing passengers to lose their footing on slanting decks.

When people ask me about the safety of cruise ships, I tell them that overall, the record is good. Yes, ships do encounter storms on the high seas. But voyage planners diligently check with weather services to avoid dangerous conditions. Equipment does malfunction. An engine failure could leave a ship wallowing in mountainous seas. And there are many ways for shipboard fires to start. But in all fairness to the industry, reputable cruise lines operate under strict guidelines for safety of life at sea. Reputable cruise lines maintain high standards of quality for their equipment and personnel, complying with regulations of the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies.

In giving people thorough information, I do point out that if anything does go wrong, a passenger’s rights could be governed by maritime law. The maritime industry operates under unique laws that determine issues such as jurisdiction, legal procedure, and deadlines. While the statute of limitations (allowable time to bring a legal action) for a car accident case in New York is three years, it could be shorter for victims of cruise ship accidents.

And if crimes have been committed at sea, they don’t necessarily fall under the jurisdiction of familiar law enforcement organizations. People do slip and fall. People do have doors close on them. People do get sexually assaulted. People do have too much to drink and cause problems. Any time you put thousands of people on a large vessel, there is some possibility, even if remote, for things to go wrong. That’s why I make a point of reminding people that their legal rights aboard a cruise ship can be governed by laws that are different from those we are familiar with on shore.

Timur handles lawsuits for car accidents, slip & fall accidents, work accidents, cruise ship accidents, serious personal injury, hospital errors, medical malpractice, dangerous product, pharmaceutical drugs, workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and other areas of law. ▪ ▪

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