The most recent legislation Congress has introduced is called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would also amend the Death on the High Seas Act, an outdated law that denies family members the right to recover intangible damages for the loss of their loved ones due to negligent and wrongful death when the death occurs on a cruise ship in international waters. Intangible damages are the type of damages that compensate family members for the grief, mental anguish, loss of comfort and companionship of their loved ones who are killed due to the wrongful conduct of another.
The Death on the High Seas Act was amended by Congress in 2000 to allow families of international plane passengers to recover damages for the loss of care, comfort and companionship. However, the act was not amended with respect to deaths that happen on cruise ships. There is no conceivable reason that can be advanced for this distinction, other than the cruise ship industry has been very successful in their lobbying efforts to prevent the amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act.
An article recently stated that since 2013, the United States Coast Guard has investigated at least 80 deaths aboard cruise ships. Hopefully this time the act will pass and the cruise ship industry will be governed by the same laws the airline industry is governed by. Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California, stated in a recent news release that, “standards for victims’ rights should be strong whether on land or at sea.”
Interestingly, the Cruise Lines International Association(CLIE), an industry group that represents the interests of the cruise ship companies, responded by pointing to a 90% customer satisfaction rate and a nearly 70% repeat customer rate. Instead of focusing on the problems that Congress has identified and is concerned about, the association continues to fight back, stating the following: “Singling out a high-performing segment of the travel and hospitality industry to impose a new and costly layer of Federal Regulation is unjustified and unnecessary.”
So the question is, unnecessary for who? Unnecessary for the cruise ship industry that does not want to step up to the plate in making cruise ships safer and provide reasonable compensation to family members when the cruise line negligently causes the death of their loved ones in international waters?
The highlights of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which includes amending DOSHA, includes the following:
- Ensure a cruise vessel owner notifies the FBI within four hours of an alleged incident.
- Allow individuals access to video surveillance records for civil action purposes.
- Require that the internet website of alleged crimes on cruise ships indicate whether the reported crimes were committed against minors.
- Direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a study determining the feasibility of having an individual charged with victim support services on board each passenger vessel.
- Require integration of technology that can both capture images and detect when a passenger has fallen overboard.
- Create medical standards requiring that a qualified physician and sufficient medical staff to be present and available for passengers, crew members receive basic life support training, automated defibrillators are accessible throughout the ship, and the initial safety briefing includes important emergency medical and safety information.
- Ensure that should a U.S. passenger die aboard a vessel, his or her next of kin could request the vessel to return the deceased back to the United States.
- Ensures families of victims are able to pursue fair compensation after a death on the high sea. This gives cruise passengers the same rights as airline passengers.