A big aspect of the money earned by cruise ships is on shoreside excursions passengers take. Many passengers believe these are run by the cruise line, and the cruise line will stand behind these excursions if there are any problems or accidents. However, many times a passenger is surprised, after having a problem or an accident, to hear the cruise line deny responsibility on the basis that they do not operate the shoreside excursion that the operators are independent contractors, and the cruise ship company has no liability for the negligence of the shoreside excursion company. Since the shoreside excursions occur in foreign countries, the passenger is then left with the prospect of trying to pursue a foreign shoreside excursion company who may not be subject to jurisdiction in the United States, and who may not have any insurance.
However, maritime attorneys knows that he or she can come up with a few theories of liability against the cruise ship company for the shore excursions, including an argument that the cruise ship company should at least be aware of the dangers, if any, and then warn the passengers of these dangers. This is one theory of liability which imposes direct liability on the cruise ship company for negligent failure to warn of dangers. This would require proving that the cruise line knew, or should have known of the dangers, based on past experience with the shoreside excursion company.
In a recent case out of the Southern District of Florida, a passenger filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises for an injury suffered when rock climbing in Dunn’s River Falls.
The passenger alleged that during the rock climbing, the guide instructed the participants to hold hands while climbing, that this resulted in the passenger falling and suffering a serious injury, and that this practice of holding hands during the climbing was unsafe. Several theories of liability against the cruise ship company were asserted in the complaint. Most were dismissed by the district court, but the District Court Judge did find that based on prior incidents, the cruise line was aware of this dangerous practice, or at least that was what the attorney pled in the complaint, and this was sufficient to hold the cruise ship company accountable under a theory of failure to warn. Accordingly, the District Judge denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Of course this is simply at the stage of pleading a case against the cruise line, and it remains to be seen whether there will be enough facts developed for the court to allow the case to go to a jury based on failure to warn of a dangerous condition. The shore excursion company is considered an independent contractor, and therefore the cruise line cannot be held liable simply because the shoreside excursion company was negligent. In other words there is no vicarious liability for the negligence of an independent contractor. There has to be provable direct negligence on the part of the cruise ship company to win. In this case the alleged provable negligence was the cruise ship company’s failure to warn of dangers they allegedly knew about.
The complexity of maritime law, including claims involving accidents occurring during shoreside excursions, mandates that an experienced maritime lawyer should be contacted if you suffer an accident while on a cruise.
Our firm continues to be active safety advocates for those harmed at sea, including helping passengers and crew members who suffer accidents on cruise ships.