United States law, in general, places responsibility on those in charge. For example, owners of a grocery store are responsible if someone slips and falls in the store if the owners were negligent in keeping the store clear of hazards. The same is applicable for cruise lines. They are responsible for the safety of their passengers.
Note, however, that cruise lines are limited in their liability to notice. That is to say, the cruise line must have had notice of a hazard or potential hazard to be responsible for injuries relating to that hazard. If the cruise line did not have notice, it can not be held legally responsible for related injuries.
The US Supreme Court put this into perspective in a Carnival Cruise line case from 1984 when the Court stressed that a cruise line does not act as an insurance company. While the cruise line is legally responsible for the safety of its passengers when it has notice of a hazard, it is not an insurance company that is responsible a hazard that lacks notice.
The recent case of Reinhardt v. Paradise Cruise Lines from the Southern District of Florida emphasized this point.
To be liable under a tort theory for premises liability, the owner or operator of the premises must have notice that a hazard exists. The term “notice” in this context includes constructive notice. Constructive notice means that the owner of the premises should have known about such an issue.
For instance, if there are people swimming on board a cruise line and it is therefore likely that the deck will be wet, it is incumbent upon the crew to monitor the deck for wet spots so patrons do not slip and fall. If the crew is constantly monitoring the deck and someone gets injured, the cruise line may not have liability. If the crew is lax and someone slips and falls, then the injured party will likely have a cause of action against the cruise line.
Reinhardt was a patron of Paradise Cruise Lines who sailed from Florida to the Bahamas. The cruise ship docked in the Bahamas and the patrons embarked onto the island to a beach. While at the beach, Reinhardt noticed that people were climbing on a floating structure in the water and jumping from that structure onto an obstacle course. A member of the crew of his cruise ship was helping patrons use the obstacle course.
Reinhardt watched this for a while and decided that he wanted to do the same. He swam to the structure, climbed up and jumped. When he landed, he cracked some ribs and broke some vertebrae.
Reinhardt sued the cruise line, claiming that its crew helped out and was therefore responsible. The court ruled against Reinhardt, reasoning that the crew was merely helping out and had no notice of any danger from jumping onto the obstacle course. Others did the same without incident.
Hurt in a maritime accident? Contact the Kolodny law firm, maritime injury attorneys.