MIAMI, Florida–We are always sad to hear of a passenger on a cruise ship being injured. The most recent case involves a Disney cruise ship, the Disney Wonder, sailing from Galveston, Texas. Not far after leaving port, approximately 50 miles from Galveston, it had been reported that a passenger fell down a set of stairs and had to be airlifted due to head injuries, suffering a skull fracture and bleeding. The seriousness of the injuries and long-term impact is unknown at the time of this writing.
Common questions future cruisers often ask is whether cruise ships are safe, whether the cruise lines keep statistics on the number of accidents occurring on their ships,what is the cruise lines’ duty of responsibility to passengers regarding their safety, and whether the cruise ship companies adequately protect their passengers.
With respect to the question whether there are statistics on the number and types of accidents occurring on board cruise ships, the answer is NO, we do not have an accurate number. Unfortunately, there is not any public information regarding these type of accidents that can accurately inform passengers about the number and types of accidents happening on cruise ships.
However, there is recent legislation requiring public disclosure of criminal activity on board cruise ships, including sexual assaults. It is hard to believe that prior to this legislation, the reporting of a crime on board a cruise ship was voluntary, leaving it up to the cruise ship company’s discretion to report a crime. This means that many crimes including rape and sexual assaults on board cruise ships were kept secret, swept under the carpet as best as it could be. Only recently has the cruise line industry has been in the spotlight, and has Congress acted to hold the cruise line more accountable.
Back to the case involving the Disney cruise ship passenger who fell down the stairs, we hope she has made a good and speedy recovery, and that there are no long term implications for her injuries.
Getting to another question regarding the cruise ship company’s responsibility to the passengers, the answer is that the responsibility or duty is to act with reasonable care for the safety of the passengers. This means acting with reasonable care to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, and warning of any dangers or hazardous conditions that the cruise ship company knows or should know about. This would include a warning about particular ports the cruise ship visits if the cruise ship company has knowledge of prior problems occurring at that port, such as criminal activity or another type of dangerous situation.
This would also apply to shore excursions. Although the cruise line will claim that if you are injured during a port excursion, that the operator of this shoreside excursion is an independent contractor for which they are not responsible for any negligent acts, a passenger can make a claim that the cruise ship company knew or should the known of some problem with the shore excursion company based on prior problems, and failed to take appropriate action, including an appropriate warning to the passengers.
We know statistically in the United States there is a substantial number of accidents that happen when people fall on stairs, which has resulted in all types of safety regulations and standards for stairs. Cruise ship companies fly a foreign flag, and the companies incorporate in a foreign country. This means that the cruise ship company often argues that the standards in the industry for making stairs safe do not apply to a cruise ship. However, the reasons for the safety regulations and standards apply to any set of stairs, and probably with more force or reason aboard a cruise ship, which is in essence a moving hotel.