Taking a cruise can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially once you venture outside the United States into international waters. However, with recent news coverage of cruise ship disasters -- including the 2012 engine fire that left passengers stranded on the ship for 5 days before returning to shore -- you may be concerned about the options you have if you are injured or made ill while taking a cruise. Read on to learn more about how cruise ship accidents, injuries, and illnesses are treated under U.S. law.
What law governs injuries if your ship is in international waters?
This can be a murky issue. In some past cases, owners of a cruise ship have disclaimed responsibility for personal injuries when these injuries occurred in international waters. For example, if an injury takes place off the coast of India, and Indian law does not recognize a valid cause of action for certain personal injuries, the cruise owners may claim that Indian law controls the situation and that therefore the injured party has no right to sue.
However, U.S. courts have held that -- for cruise companies headquartered in the United States -- liability for negligence can be incurred regardless of where the incident took place.
The site of the incident does play a part when determining where a case should be filed. In most cases, the proper location for case filing (or "venue") is the court in the city or county where the injury took place. However, in cases like this, proper venue may be the state in which the cruise ship company is headquartered.
You also have the option to file the lawsuit in the court in your own city or county. The cruise company, or defendant, may then request a change of venue -- however, if the defendant declines to request this change, the lawsuit may be litigated in the location that is most convenient for you.
What should you do if you are injured while taking a cruise?
If you've been made ill or suffered an injury while aboard a cruise ship, and believe this injury was due to negligence (such as a broken stair railing, improperly cooked food, or a delay in cleaning up a spill) you may be able to recover damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Your first step should be to consult an experienced personal injury attorney or law firm like Solomon, Sherman & Gabay . This attorney will be able to set out your available options to help you make a decision. For example, if you don't want the time and expense of a court trial, you may be able to arrange a mediation or arbitration session that will help you receive compensation for your injuries without filing a lawsuit or going to court.
If a lawsuit is filed, your attorney will also be able to issue subpoenas or requests for discovery that will require the defendant to turn over certain information necessary for your case. Your attorney will want copies of any medical bills or records, as well.
Before you file a lawsuit, you should keep detailed documentation of any interactions you have with the defendant or your insurance company. This will help your attorney prepare a timeline of the claim and determine what monetary damages may be available to you.
What damages should you seek?
In most cases, you should be able to seek and recover reimbursement for any medical expenses you've incurred, as well as compensation for any emotional or mental anguish. In some cases, particularly those in which the defendant was egregiously negligent, you may even be able to receive punitive damages. These are funds intended less to compensate you, but more to discourage the cruise company's negligent behavior and help prevent future such incidents.