MIAMI, Florida–We have recently heard of two separate tragedies resulting from two separate excursions in New Zealand. When signing up for a shore excursion in a foreign country, we do not always consider the fact that the country we are in for the day may not have the same type of laws and safety protocols we are used to. We also do not consider that if something does happen to us during a shore excursion in a foreign country, what recourse we may have against the wrongdoer. As an American citizen abroad, we may in fact have limited ability to obtain justice against a wrongdoer whose negligence causes us harm.
These tragedies occurred during tours organized for the passengers on the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship that was docked for the night in New Zealand on November 22, 2016. The first incident involved a tour bus full of cruise ship passengers crashing into a driver of a Mazda. The driver died as a result. The second incident involved a 71-year old cruise ship passenger on a cycle tour who was hit by a truck. She also died as a result of the accident. Although injuries and deaths are not unusual during a shore excursion, as we have recently reported of another tragic accident on a shoreside excursion in the Dominica, two deaths on the same day from two different excursions is very unusual.
We understand that there is a risk of being hit by a car anywhere, and also, simply because there are risks associated with taking a cruise that travels internationally across the high seas, does not mean in any way that we suggest you do not take a cruise. Going on a cruise is a great way to spend a vacation, to relax, and to have fun. There are numerous activities both on board the cruise ship, and at the different ports the cruise ship visits.
Cruise ship companies make significant profits from the sale of shore excursions at the different ports the cruise ship visits. Most passengers believe that if they purchase a shoreside excursion from the cruise ship company, that the cruise ship company has adequately investigated the safety of the shoreside excursion and therefore the passenger can rely upon this for their safety. While the cruise ship company should be very familiar with each of the shore excursion packages it sells, including the safety record of the operator, this is not always the case.
Although the cruise line should investigate and make sure that they are referring passengers to safe operators, many times we learn that the port excursion company has had many prior incidents and poor safety records that was not investigated by the cruise line company.
The question that is posed to us often is what is my recourse, if any, against the cruise line if I do get injured during a shore excursion in a foreign port? First, it is likely that there will be no jurisdiction over the shoreside excursion operator unless the shore excursion operator has agreed to defend cases in the United States in connection with port excursions sold by the cruise ship company. Also, shore excursion companies would have to have insurance to cover such claims.
However, there may be recourse against the cruise ship company pursuant to the passenger cruise ship ticket, which establishes a duty to a passenger to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances for the safety of the passenger. This would include a duty to warn of dangers in foreign ports, that the cruise ship company knows about, or should know about. Therefore, it can be argued that if the cruise ship company acted reasonably, it would have determined the safety risks to their passengers associated with a particular port side tour, and either not have taken passengers to that particular port or sold a passenger a shore excursion with that particular operator.
These are not easy cases, but many times a passenger injured in a foreign port believes they are left with no recourse as the cruise ship company immediately takes the position that the operator of these shoreside tours are independent contractors for which the cruise company has no liability for. A claim against the cruise ship company, including an injury occurring during a shore excursion at a foreign port, is a complicated maritime legal issue. The same passenger ticket that establishes the legal relationship creating the duty of care between the cruise line and its passengers, also has terms and conditions which severely limit the rights of passengers.
The terms and conditions require notice of your claim within 6 months of the incident, and requires filing a lawsuit within one year from the date of the incident. This is an extremely short deadline created by the passenger ticket. Typically, most statute of limitations, which is the time deadline to file a lawsuit, give you more time. The cruise ship companies enjoy the benefit of the shorter time limitations, which often times creates a trap for those passengers not familiar with maritime law.