The Carnival Elation in New Orleans

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of students have been traipsing off on cruises for spring break, looking forward to a week of tanning, eating well, and poolside drinking, all in the comfort of a floating resort that will take them to exotic foreign locations. However, recent cruise-related news may give potential cruisers pause. First, in January, the Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy, killing 25. Next, in February, twenty-two passengers on a Carnival Cruise were robbed in Puerto Vallarta. The United States government had released a travel advisory for certain Mexican cities just weeks before. Though there were no injuries, the passengers were held at gunpoint on their tour bus while they had their valuables taken. The robbery happened on a hiking excursion (excursions are a common way for passengers to get off the ship and enjoy that particular port of call with a guide). Finally, just this March, the Princess Cruises ship Ruby Princess returned to Miami with at least 129 cases of Norovirus. Norovirus will probably ruin your cruise; if you get it, the ship’s crew might confine you to your room, if you’re not confined to your bathroom already.

So you’re sick, or you got robbed on your excursion – can you sue? At least one family sued when Norovirus killed a family member, alleging that Celebrity Cruises did not take adequate care to warn against Norovirus and make sure the ship was sanitary. In regards to excursions, in Carlisle v. Ulysses Line, the Court held that when a group of cruisers were robbed and shot (after renting jeeps and driving around Nassau on the advice of the cruise’s activities director), the cruise company’s duty was not limited just to embarkation and debarkation. So yes, a claim may be possible.

However, assuming you even have a claim, it may not be worth your time to pursue it. Forum-selection clauses are now standard in cruise contracts. For example, if your cruise company is based in South Florida, you likely agreed in advance, by booking the cruise, to bringing suit in Miami. If you’re from South Florida already, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, if you’re a Vanderbilt student, retaining counsel in Miami and traveling to Miami for proceedings is likely to be too inconvenient. If you wish to challenge the clause itself, you will probably fail. The Supreme Court upheld the use of the use of a Carnival forum selection clause limiting suit to Miami.

The good news is that cruise companies seem to be willing to work with passengers to compensate them for injury or inconvenience. In the Puerto Vallarta robbery, the cruise company worked with the passengers to reimburse them for stolen valuables. As another example, after the Carnival Splendor caught fire, Carnival offered to refund cruisers’ travel expenses and put them on a future Carnival Cruise for free. When negotiating with the cruise line, one commentator recommends rejecting the first offer and negotiating up; cruises budget money to accommodate unhappy passengers. So while legal options look less than promising, unhappy cruisers may still be able to obtain redress. And of course, stay safe, and remember to wash your hands.

– Cal Albritton

Image Source – Author’s Personal Photograph

4 Responses to Cruises: Spring Break Suit?

  1. ADM says:

    Stepping onto a cruise ship is an action many people, by definition, take lightly. They’re going on vacation, after all. After observing the jovial attitude at embarkation, it would surprise me if many passengers take the time to consider the bizarre legal world they are stepping into. However, as one article points out (http://overheadbin.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/05/11039820-strip-search-lawsuit-exposes-paradox-of-cruise-ship-passenger-rights) it isn’t just that “when you go on a cruise ship, you are in the territory of the flag of the country the ship is registered in,” that makes life aboard a cruise ship interesting, it is the variety of cultural norms that you are exposed to. Cruise ships and related personnel come from all around the world – and this is certainly part of the fun of cruising. However, it can be problematic when security personnel act on different cultural norms and values, particularly relating to privacy and personal issues, than those shared by the passengers. One example of the horror that could arise from such a disagreement is found in the above link, where a teenage girl is suing Carnival Cruise Lines after being subjected to allegedly atypical security procedures when her ship was docked in the Bahamas. Though Carnival claims the allegations are false, if true, they could in part be explained by differing cultural recognition of certain legal protections. This is particularly relevant because, as a maritime attorney who deals with cruise-related legal issues says, “the only real authority on the ship is the cruise line itself.”

  2. Ellen says:

    It’s difficult to litigate a claim, and it’s even harder for crimes occurring on board to be prosecuted. Many ships are far from safe–Royal Caribbean reported 66 sexual assaults from 2003-2005; alarmingly, no serious crime occurring on board has ever been successfully prosecuted, as victims depend on Liberia’s justice system (cruise line registered there). It appears consumers shouldn’t expect justice in any respect to follow from any shipboard incidents.