Recently, various news outlets have reported that Royal Caribbean Cruises was removing some of their ships from the port of Falmouth, Jamaica. However, it is not clear what is going to happen as several cruise ships of Royal Caribbean do travel to this port, and RCCL has invested money in helping to develop the port for bringing more cruise ships there.
What is interesting are the reasons for the decision to bring less ships to Falmouth, Jamaica. One is harassment of the passengers by local vendors. One of the other reasons for bringing less ships to the port of Falmouth was the dangers of the tour bus operators. Tour bus operators have been an issue in the past. Last year a tour bus filled with Royal Caribbean passengers crashed, leaving one dead and many injured. Again, this illustrates dangers at a port of call known to the cruise line, where the cruise line directed passengers to. These types of dangers are present at many port of calls, and we must rely on the cruise ship companies to do a better job of vetting these excursions to prevent further accidents and injuries during these shore excursions.
The question when something happens to a passenger injured during the shore side excursion is whether the cruise ship company will be held accountable if the accident was due to some unsafe or dangerous condition, or due to negligence of the shore side excursion company. Typically, for a company to be held liable for the acts of another company or individual, the company or the individual must be determined to be an agent of the company for purposes of imposing liability on the company. Therefore, it has been argued that the shore excursion companies are agents of the cruise ship company because the cruise ship companies hire the shore side excursion companies to take their passengers on excursions during a cruise. However, the laws become well-settled that because the cruise ship companies do not control the shore excursion companies activities, and a separate shore side company actually is conducting the operations, the excursion company is not considered to be an agent of the cruise line. In fact, the cruise line puts in their brochures and ticket that these shoreside companies are actually independent contractors, which the law has so held.
Therefore, another theory of liability has to be pursued against the cruise ship company to hold them accountable if injured during the shore excursion. One theory is that the shore side excursion company, if not an actual agent because of the lack of control by the cruise company, is an apparent agent to the passenger because of the relationship between the cruise ship company and the shore side excursion company. This argument has failed also because the cruise company explicitly sets forth the shore company as an independent contractor, and the passengers are put on notice of that fact.
The one theory that has been successful is when it can be proved that the cruise ship company knew or should have known of some danger associated with the shore side excursion, and despite this, went ahead and promoted and sold the shore excursion, providing no warnings to the passengers. Another theory is negligent selection or retention of the shore side excursion company. If the shore side excursion company has a bad safety record and the cruise ship company still hires that shore excursion company, or still continues to promote the company as one of their recommended shore side excursion companies, then there can be liability based on a negligent selection or negligent retention theory.
For example, we are currently representing passengers seriously injured during a shore excursion on a Celebrity cruise when they were in New Zealand. A bus transporting the passengers drove off the side of a mountain and turned over, seriously injuring the passengers. The excursion company had a known history of operating buses that were old and not maintained properly, and employing unqualified bus drivers. In fact, the same company was criminally prosecuted for a prior incident that killed a passenger from the same cruise ship company! Despite this, Celebrity continued to promote and sell this excursion with this company! Hard to believe, but yes, it is true. This could be you if you go on a cruise.
We depend on cruise lines for excursions and we expect them to vet the companies they promote. These instances reaffirm that we must pursue legal recourse against the cruise lines and navigate through the legal obstacles they present to hold them accountable. Profits should not be a priority over passenger safety for the cruise lines.