MIAMI, Florida–On January 14, 2016, passengers from Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas were onboard a tour bus operated by a shore excursion company in Jamaica, when the tour bus collided with the truck, causing the bus to flip over multiple times. The passengers were on their way back from a day excursion to Jamaica’s Dunn River Falls. It was reported that the driver of the tour bus operator was driving recklessly on winding roads, when the collision occurred. Passengers were noted to have complained during the ride that they were concerned that the driver was operating the bus dangerously. The answer they received that drivers in Jamaica are known for driving erratically, especially around winding roads, and the manner in which the bus operator was driving was normal for Jamaica.
As a result of this tragic accident, a passenger was killed and a dozen more were injured. The shore excursion the passengers were participating in was operated by a third party in Jamaica. One might ask what responsibility the cruise ship company has when a third party operating an excursion company acts negligently, or even recklessly, causing injury or death to the passengers of the cruise ship company? A recent lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court in Miami, Florida on behalf of these passengers will address this legal issue, which is the liability of the cruise ship company for the acts of this shore excursion company, who the cruise company will assert is an independent contractor for which they have no legal liability for.
However, the passengers will try to establish the link with the cruise company by proving that the cruise ship company promoted the shore side excursion, and provided representations that the cruise line had determined that the excursion company was safe and there were no dangers to their passengers. The passengers will point to representations made on the website of the cruise company about shore side excursions that the cruise company recommends based on their experience. The cruise company even suggests that passengers not book port excursions off the ship because the cruise lines will only recommend reputable companies and it is safer to book the excursions directly with them. The appearances that the cruise line is involved with the excursion company, and the representations made suggest that the cruise ship company has determined the excursions to be safe and that the passengers can rely on the cruise’s experience and expertise with the various excursion companies available at the different ports the cruise takes their passengers to.
The maritime law imposes a duty on a cruise ship company to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances for the safety of their passengers, and to safely transport the passengers from the beginning to the end, acting with reasonable care with respect to safety issues. The argument is that this duty includes the cruise lines making determinations based on any dangers associated with any shore excursions that they are recommending or selling to their passengers. If there are any dangers known, or which should be known to the cruise ship company, the cruise line can be liable for failure to act reasonably under the circumstances by recommending an unsafe excursion, and by failing to warn of its dangers.
Here, the allegations are that it is well-known that these roads are very windy, treacherous and dangerous, and that drivers in Jamaica are known to drive erratically around these roads, creating significant safety risks to the passengers who might decide to travel on these roads and are unaware of these dangers. They allege that Royal Caribbean breached the duty of safely transporting their passengers by providing them with an incompetent driver.
The current lawsuit is filed in Miami, Florida, where Royal Caribbean International is based. The cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean, requires a passenger to file any lawsuits against them for personal injury or wrongful death in Miami, Florida, and requires the lawsuit to be filed in federal district court. These requirements are contained in the passenger ticket issued to the passengers. Another important limitation in the passenger ticket is that the lawsuit must be filed one year from the date of the incident, and that apparently is why this particular lawsuit has been filed at this time, as the one-year anniversary is approaching.
The tour bus operator has also been included in the lawsuit based on the connections the company has with this Miami-based cruise ship company. The tour bus operator is a Jamaican company, but has contractual agreements with the cruise ship companies to provide excursions to the cruise line passengers, for which the cruise ship companies will receive profits from, similar to a joint venture.
Based on the history of accidents on these particular roads, the history of this shore excursion company, and the driving habits in Jamaica, Royal Caribbean will have a difficult time explaining their recommendations to the passengers for this particular company and why they did not take any type of action to guard against the dangers for their passengers.