Articles Tagged with Royal Caribbean Cruises

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.

dunns-300x225As 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.

MIAMI, Florida– 2017 is approaching which means that cruise ship giants Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises will soon be taking their cruise ships to Cuba. Two of Royal Caribbean’s ships, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, are scheduled to set sail around late April. All three of Norwegian’s ships, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Ocean Cruises, are scheduled to start sailing to Cuba in May.

cuba-300x225In fact, on Tuesday Norwegian Cruise Line opened up its bookings for its four-day trip to Cuba starting May 1 on the Norwegian Sky. The Norwegian Sky is the biggest United States ship to make its way to Cuba holding 2,004 passengers. Additionally, according to recent reports, the Norwegian Sky is the cheapest cruise ship to Cuba out there at the moment. The Norwegian Sky is scheduled to make five trips to Cuba in May, leaving from the Port of Miami.

Despite growing awareness of cruise ship incidents, including sexual assaults, fires, disappearances, and a host of other problems, an article in the Miami Herald indicates that the cruise ship industry here in Florida is booming.big-ship-300x225 The article reports how major cruise lines are bringing the biggest cruise ships in history to the ports in both Port Everglades, Florida and Miami, Florida. This includes Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista, Holland America’s ms Koningsdam,and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer.

This brings us to the question of whether these mega cruise ships are better than the average-size cruise ships. Is bigger really better? The larger cruise ships will provide a lot more variety as to entertainment, restaurants, and other activities, as well as increased profits to the cruise lines. However, how safe are these huge cruise ships out in the high seas with thousands of passengers and thousands of crew members? What happens in the case of a fire or other disaster where an evacuation must take place? I do not believe anyone has forgotten the images of the Costa Concordia lying on its side in Italy after striking rocks, causing it to capsize. The evacuation process after this happened was a mess. There were many deaths and injuries, with the incident being compared to the Titanic. Although what happened on the Costa Concordia was a rare incident, it does highlight the issue of how safe these new humongous cruise ships really are.

gavelIn a recent decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 15502 (5th Cir. 2016), reflecting the pro-arbitration philosophy of the courts, seamen have been given yet another big setback in the pursuit of their right to a jury trial granted to them by the United States statute, the Jones act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104.

The case of Alberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises involved a crew member working for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, a Miami-based cruise ship company, who was a United States citizen and resident. There are not many United States citizens working aboard these foreign-flagged cruise ship companies. The crew member brought a case against the cruise line company pursuant to the Jones Act, which allows an employee to sue his or her employer for negligence. The Jones Act is a special grant of a party by Congress, enacted in 1920 to help protect workers on ships due to the unique nature of their employment.

lifeboatI have previously written about lifeboat accidents, safety boat accidents, and other types of rescue boat accidents, occurring with frequency on cruise ships. The most recent catastrophe has occurred on Royal Caribbean’s brand-new mega cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas. Unfortunately, I have handled many of these type of cases ranging from minor injuries to fatalities, as well as cases where the accident resulted in paralysis. Other lifeboat and rescue boat accidents have resulted in serious physical and psychological injuries.

I have determined that these accidents are occurring because of the faulty designs of the major safety equipment, inadequate maintenance, and a lack of proper procedures for conducting the safety drills. We had previously written about Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. It measures about the length of four football fields, and is longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower, carrying 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew members.

As previously reported, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship the Anthem of the Seas suffered damages, and caused personal injuries to passengers, when the cruise ship was navigated into the path of a severe storm. The ship was reported to list (tilted) almost completely on its side. Experts state that this storm was forecasted, and question the cruise ship company’s decision to head into the area. The cruise line defends its actions saying the storm was worse than it was forecasted, and had it known that the winds would get so strong they would never have directed the cruise ship into the area.

storm cloudsI have previously written about the decision of cruise ship companies to not cancel cruises despite forecasted storms. It is very costly to the cruise line to cancel a cruise or change its itinerary, and my experience in handling maritime cases over the past 30 years has been that the cruise line does what it can to avoid this. The companies believe their mega  ships can withstand any type of weather, and take its chances that it will simply be an uncomfortable ride for its passengers.

Several times this decision making process on the part of the cruise lines has backfired, and resulted in serious damages to the cruise ship, passengers and crew.

Maritime Law states that a cruise ship company owes a duty of reasonable care to all of its passengers, which includes a duty to exercise reasonable care in making decisions on the itinerary of the ship, and to provide a reasonably safe and comfortable cruise for the passengers. Clearly heading into a forecasted storm of this magnitude is a breach of that duty.

Once there is a breach of the duty of care owed to the passengers, the passenger then must prove more than merely psychological damages or emotional distress. The passenger ticket indicates that there must be a physical impact or injuries before a passenger can bring a case for emotional distress or emotional damages. The law also requires more than simply claiming there was fear as a result of the storm and therefore emotional damages were suffered.

There is a test called the Zone of Danger Test, which states that if a passenger was within the zone of danger of the physical impact, and suffered emotional damages but no physical injuries, the passenger can recover for emotional damages. This would likely apply in cases such as what occurred with the Anthem of the Seas.

A lawsuit is being filed, claiming compensatory damages and punitive damages. This could be a good case to bring a claim for punitive damages, if  allowed under the General Maritime Law, for being reckless and exposing the passengers and crew to the risks of injury and possibly death by heading into a storm of this magnitude. However, this is a difficult case because often times the Coast Guard and the authorities in charge of investigating such incidents are favorable to the cruise line. My firm once handled a case involving a cruise ship that headed into a well-forecasted storm, and all independent experts agreed it was crazy to go into the storm and risk the lives and safety of the passengers and crew. However, the governmental authority that issued the flag to the vessel, and even our United States Coast Guard, bought the cruise line’s argument that the incident was nothing but an unavoidable encounter with unexpected weather, which is the typical defense.
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gavelMany years ago, I handled the case of Royal Caribbean Corporation v. Modesto, 614 So. 2d 517 (Fla. 3rd D.C.A 1992). I argued the case before our Intermediate State Appellate Court, the Third District Court of Appeal, where the issue was whether Florida’s Offer of Judgment statute which provides for an award of attorney’s fees if a party makes a Proposal for Settlement to the other side which is not accepted, and then one side or the other fulfills the criteria of the Offer of Judgment statute for the award of attorney’s fees. If a Plaintiff serves a Proposal for Settlement or Offer of Judgment, the Plaintiff must receive a jury award of at least 25% more than the rejected proposal in order to receive attorney’s fees, and if a Defendant serves a Proposal for Settlement, if the Defendant receives a jury verdict which is more than 25 % less than their offer, Defendant is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees.

In the Modesto case I argued, the Defendant argued that awarding attorney’s fees pursuant to the Florida Offer of Judgment statute would conflict with Federal Maritime law. Defendant argued the statute should not apply in a Maritime case because of this conflict. I was successful at the time with the Third District Court of appeal in convincing the court that awarding a seaman attorney’s fees pursuant to the Offer of Judgment statute did not violate any established Federal Maritime law, and enforcement of the Offer of Judgment statute would not contradict any well-established Maritime laws or principles.