Cruise Line Travel


An area of more limited and restrictive legal rights is that of cruise line travel. In addition to accidents or injuries occurring on the vessels themselves, passengers may also be injured while being transported from ship to shore (embarking or disembarking), shopping in a port of call, on local excursion trips, or at a hotel owned by the cruise line. (The U.S. Supreme Court held, in Kenward v. The Admiral Peoples, 295 U.S. 649, (1935) that admiralty jurisdiction applied to an injury sustained on a gangplank leading to a ship.)

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12181 et seq., which prohibits discrimination based on disability in places of “public accommodation,” and in “specific public transportation services,” is applicable to foreign-flag ships temporarily in U.S. waters, i.e., departing from, and returning to, U.S. ports. Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., No. 03-1388, (2005). This requires such entities to make reasonable modifications and accommodations for disabled persons, as well as to remove architectural barriers and communication barriers that are structural in nature.

Admiralty (maritime) law (46 USC 183b) permits very short statutes of limitations for filing claims or lawsuits. For injuries occurring while on board cruise vessels that touch U.S. shores, passengers are generally required to file claims within six months and commence a lawsuit within one year, but case law suggests that the limitations must be “reasonably communicated” to passengers.

The passenger ticket is a very important document in the event of injury. It must disclose any limitations periods for filing suits or claims. Again, maritime law governs the rights and remedies of cruise passengers and preempts any state laws requiring “fine print” on consumer contracts to be printed in a certain print type or size.

The passenger ticket may also contain a “forum selection” clause. Such clauses generally provide that any disputes, claims, or lawsuits must be brought in the local court (“forum”) in the country of the ship’s registry or where the cruise line is headquartered. Again, these clauses are generally enforceable if notice to passengers is deemed adequate and fair. Forum selection clauses may be subject to judicial review for fundamental fairness or reasonableness.

Passenger tickets may also contain “choice of law” clauses, which are extremely important to a passenger’s right to recover damages for injury or death. In such clauses, a statement of notice is made to the passenger that all disputes or claims will be resolved according to the laws of a certain country, state, or principality, etc. Choice of law clauses are generally enforceable but can be subjected to judicial review for patent unreasonableness or unjustness (such as fraudulent misrepresentation or overreaching). The application of foreign law may greatly impact the monetary damages or types of actions available to an injured traveler.

Waivers or limitations on liability may be contained in passenger tickets. Under maritime law (46 USC 183c), cruise vessels touching U.S. shores may not disclaim liability for physical injury or loss caused or contributed to by the vessel’s negligence. However, in 1996, Congress enacted a provision (46 USC 183(b)(1)) permitting limitations on liability for infliction of emotional distress, mental suffering, or psychological injury.

Finally, if passengers are injured or need medical treatment while on board, cruise lines are generally not liable for medical malpractice of a ship’s doctors or medical staff. Some courts have found liability when medical staff are touted or advertised by the cruise lines as an added benefit or advantage during the cruise.