Last month the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee heard horrific stories from cruise line passengers recounting their experiences. The man behind this hearing was Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) the committee chairman. Senator Rockefeller has been on a mission to hold the cruise line industry accountable for their dangerous practices regarding the safety of passengers for years. His passion for holding the cruise industry accountable for the safety of its passengers must be commended.
Horrifying Cruise Stories
Laurie Dishman was one such passenger who spoke at the hearing that was irreparably harmed by the cruise line industry. Back in 2006, Ms. Dishman was choked and raped on a Royal Caribbean cruise by one of the line’s employees. In addition to this, when Ms. Dishman reported the incident to the ship’s staff, they were slow and discourteous in helping her. They made Ms. Dishman collect evidence in trash bags, and didn’t take her to the infirmary immediately, administer anti-retroviral medications or give her another cabin for the rest of her trip. The icing on the cake is that even after an FBI investigation when the ship finally docked in the U.S., her rapist was never arrested or tried in the United States.
Another sad story was told by the attorney for a 15-year old girl with Asperger syndrome who was raped by both an adult and another juvenile while on a cruise. The girl was participating in cruise-sponsored teen activities when the crimes happened. The mother of the girl was under the impression that these activities would be supervised as was suggested in the cruise line’s promotional material.
Kim Ware also spoke out about the infamous Carnival Triumph’s 2013 fiasco in the Gulf where the ship lost power and passengers were living in “tent city.” Ms. Ware described how sewage was spewing up from the shower drains, hallways were littered with red biohazard bags filled with feces and how passengers spent time on deck under sheets to guard themselves against the sun. Ware went on to say that she was terrified that fights would break out due to food hoarding by other passengers and the numerous other deplorable conditions onboard of which little to no direction came from the staff. She testified that “it was soon very clear the Carnival Cruise Lines had no plan in place for such a disaster,” and “they were essentially winging it.”
Bill to Improve the Protection of Cruise Passengers
Last year, Senator Rockefeller introduced a bill to improve the protection of passengers on cruise ships called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act that was never passed. Last month’s hearing was the second Rockefeller has called to raise awareness of such problems and how his bill would address them. Apparently, no cruise line industry officials attended this most recent meeting and are not taking these problems seriously. Other members of the committee said that cruise lines need to make it clear to passengers before they buy tickets what rights they have while onboard and what rights they are giving up (more on this below). In addition to the bill Senator Rockefeller introduced, he is currently trying to include some provisions in a new Coast Guard reauthorization bill, including the following:
- Requiring a study of medical professionals on ships.
- Creating a consumer protection advisory committee that focuses on the cruise industry at the Department of Transportation.
- Requiring the cruise lines to report crimes within 24 hours after a complaint is made, make logbooks available to the FBI and report a crime committed at the port to the FBI before departing.
- Modifying existing law to make sure crimes that occur on cruise ships are fully reported to the public and available on the Department of Transportation website.
- Creating a consumer protection website at the Department of Transportation for cruise passengers.
The cruise industry is a multi-billion dollar machine that sells the idea of a dream vacation. The reality is that cruise passengers have faced serious issues while at sea, including fires, crime and being stranded at sea. Additionally, the cruise industry provides excursions while at the port that can become extremely dangerous when the company used for the excursion is not properly vetted. The industry has continued to try to belittle and play down these concerns in order to maintain the dream vacation image. There also exist numerous problems involved when passengers purchase cruise tickets. Some of those issues include, but are not limited to:
- Being required to file suit in a predetermined jurisdiction (such as Miami) even if the cruise disembarked in another state and the passenger lives in another state.
- Requiring suits to be filed within 1 year of the incident.
- Limiting the amount of property damage/baggage claims available if personal property is lost, damaged or stolen.
- Disallowing class actions to be filed by passengers.
Laws on Land are Different than at Sea
All this is not to say that cruising cannot be a fun and enjoyable vacation. However, if you have been injured or been the victim of a crime while on a cruise, it is important to hire an attorney that knows maritime law. The law on land is different than the law at sea. For instance, if you die at sea in international waters, your spouse, parent, child or dependent relative’s claim is limited by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). DOHSA limits the recovery to pecuniary loss only. This means the damages are limited to only what the decedent would have earned for the rest of their life (had they not already passed) and the loss of support at home (such as the rate of hiring a landscaper if the decedent always did that work themselves).
Bringing a claim against the cruise industry is not easy.
Like most large corporations, the cruise line has teams of staff attorneys to defend themselves. However, the LaBovick Law Group also has a team of martime injury attorneys that focus their practice on maritime matters. We provide free consultations to those injured on cruises, and we don’t get paid unless you get paid. Contact us today!