Are Limitation-of-Liability Provisions in Cruise Ticket Contract Unenforceable?

May 10, 2013

Gadling reported on February 6, 2012 that two cruise ships which arrived in Florida and one in New Orleans brought back nearly 700 sick passengers to shore over the weekend. The report indicated that Norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, hit passengers and crew causing hundreds to become ill. If these breakouts are a result of the ship owner's negligence, can the passengers recover damages for the illnesses contracted?

As a preliminary matter, it is necessary to state that ship owners owe a duty of care to all of the passengers on board. This general rule regarding ship owners was adopted by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale, 358 U.S. 625 (1959). The United States Supreme court clearly explained in said case that "it is a settled principle of maritime law that a shipowner owes the duty of exercising reasonable care towards those lawfully aboard the vessel who are not members of the crew. Having exposed the general rule of liability, we next need to determine whether ship owners can limit their liability by including a "limitation-of-liability" clause in their ticket.

Cruise Ship Ticket Typical Limitation-of-Liability Clause

Most cruise ship tickets incorporate a "limitation-of-liability" clause which stipulates that in the event of an accident, the cruise ship's liability will be limited to a certain sum. Most of the time these clauses are included in the fine print of the ticket and passengers are not aware of these limitation of liability clauses. Under these circumstances, are these clauses enforceable against passengers in the event of a major breakout as it was the case in the three cruise ships reported above? This very same issue was recently brought before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in the case of Wajnstat v. Oceania Cruises, Inc., 684 F.3d 1153, 23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1211 (11th Cir., 2012)

Felix Wajnstat and his wife booked a cruise on a ship owned by Oceania, which would depart from Istanbul, Turkey, stop at various Black Sea ports, and then end in Athens, Greece. During that cruise, Wajnstat became ill and sought medical attention from the ship's doctor. He was eventually evacuated to Sevastopol, Ukraine, where he underwent three surgeries and allegedly received substandard care.

Wajnstat filed a lawsuit in federal district court before the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida and claimed that Oceania negligently hired, retained, and supervised the ship's doctor. Oceania answered that its liability to Wajnstat, if any, was limited by the limitation-of-liability provision in the ticket contract which made reference to various treatises and statutes.

The district court concluded that the limitation of liability provision was not reasonably communicative because it was confusing and because it required the passengers to parse through various treaties and statutes to determine the limits of Oceania's liability. An appeal from this decision was eventually dismissed by the United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for lack of jurisdiction.

Not So Fast

When these viral breakouts occur in cruise ships, passengers are routinely contacted by cruise ship patrons offering them a free cruise ship in the future for their inconvenience. These patrons often refer to the limitation of liability clauses incorporated in the tickets to persuade the passengers in accepting the free ticket as compensation for their damages. Before accepting such an offer, sick passengers should confer with an attorney as they may be entitled to more rights than a simple free ticket in the future.

The Lawyers of Greenberg, Stone & Urbano, P.A. Can Help

Cruise lines often try to get an injured or ill passenger to accept a refund as compensation for his or her injuries. You should not give into these companies' pressure to accept a mere refund in exchange for your injuries or illness if there was negligence involved that caused the injury or loss. If you or a loved one have suffered serious injuries or if a loved one died while on a cruise vacation or have suffered a serious illness while taking a cruise, the cruise line may owe you financial compensation.

It is important for you to remember that these cases are governed by certain conditions set forth in the cruise tickets. For example, according to most tickets, claimants have only six months to give written notice of the claim to the cruise line and one year from the date of the incident to file suit often in a jurisdiction picked by the cruise line. More often then not, suit must be brought in Miami, Florida.

Consequently, you should contact a lawyer with experience handling these matters immediately. Only your prompt legal action will force the cruise company to compensate you for your past and future medical costs (including rehabilitation therapy), your pain and suffering and your lost wages. Please note that a Florida lawyer will handle your entire case, including the initial consultation, on a contingency fee basis. This means that you don't have to pay your attorney anything, unless he o she wins your case.

Throughout the years the Cruise Lines Injury Lawyers of Greenberg, Stone & Urbano, P.A. have handled many such cases against these cruise lines and can help you obtain the compensation you may deserve.

If you or a close relative suffered became ill while on a cruise, we urge you to contact a law firm with experience handling cruise ship injury cases. Visit our website to learn more about our firm and contact us today.