MIAMI, Florida–A British cruise ship passenger has died and nine others have been injured in a tragic bus crash during a shore excursion in the Caribbean island of Dominica. The bus was on its way back from a tourist attraction when the accident happened. The cause of the accident is still not known. The passengers were from the P&O ship Azura.
It is not uncommon to hear of passengers on cruise ships injured during accidents involving transportation of passengers to and from the site of the excursion, whether involving a bus, boat or other type of vehicle. In a case like this we would want to investigate the history of the shoreside excursion company, the longevity of the relationship the cruise ship company, in this case P&O Cruises, had with this particular company, and whether there were any prior problems with this company that the cruise company knew or should have known about.
The main question I receive is whether the cruise ship company can be held accountable for the negligence of the company operating the shore excursion. The maritime law has addressed this issue many times, and there is no simple answer to the question. However, it boils down to the usual question whether there is negligence on the part of the cruise ship company.
The cruise company has a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of their passengers. The law recognizes that this duty extends to places off the ship that companies take their passengers to. This makes sense because cruise ship companies are in the business of taking passengers to ports all over the world, and profiting from this, and the cruise lines gain a lot of knowledge about the particular ports and shoreside excursion operators. A passenger on a cruise ship often relies upon the cruise ship company to direct them to reputable companies for their excursions at different ports and the cruise line makes money selling them the shore excursions.
The cruise ship companies of course want to distance themselves from these companies when it comes to liability for accidents. So what do they do? The cruises put in their brochures and passenger tickets that the shoreside excursion operators are what the law refers to as independent contractors. The normal rule is that a company is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor it hires, or refers someone to.
Even though the cruise ship companies profit with the sale of these shore excursions, the law has found the companies operating the shoreside excursions to be independent from the cruise line, and therefore do not impute the negligence of the excursion company to the cruise ship company. In other words, just because the port excursion company was recommended by the cruise line, the cruise line sold them their excursion ticket, and the cruise ship company profits from the sale of the ticket, the law holds that the cruise ship company is not directly responsible for the negligence of the shore excursion company.
Does this mean that a passenger on a cruise ship who is injured or killed during a shore excursion has no recourse against the cruise ship company? This would be very alarming because most of these companies are based in foreign countries and it is difficult to sue them and obtain jurisdiction, as well as collect any judgment for money damages that could be received.
The main way to hold the cruise ship liable is to prove independent negligence on the part of the cruise, based on a failure to properly select the shore excursion company, or to hold the cruise ship liable on a theory that the company knew or should have known of dangers and failed to warn the passengers about them.