Are cruise lines liable for injuries caused by severe weather conditions?

Mark Twain – maybe – once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” And while the state of our current technology is such that we can only sit by and watch it unfold, we are far better equipped to handle what Mother Nature throws us than we were when Twain was alive.

And the same is true of cruise ships. It is not uncommon for passengers and even crew to suffer injuries on board. A passenger could sustain injury due to food poisoning, a slip and fall, or even collisions or the like during severe weather. The cruise line can work to prevent many of these injuries by adopting safe food protocols and practices, and keeping common areas clear of clutter and tripping hazards, and mopping up slippery spills as soon as possible.

But what about injuries sustained because of the weather?

Cruise line liability can exist under maritime law. However, some accidents are more likely to fall under maritime law than others. Furthermore, the cruise line’s liability may vary when it comes to injuries sustained due to weather conditions.

When Can Cruise Lines Be Liable?

Weather-related incidents can generally be divided into two kinds. The first are the more or less predictable types of weather problems. These are usually spelled out in your ticket contract. Don’t have a ticket contract? Of course you do – that’s the fine print on your ticket. So get out your magnifying glass and take a look at it.

Predictable Weather Issues

Basically, the cruise line is allowed to deviate from its set schedule when weather requires it. Royal Caribbean, for example, says the following:

  1. CANCELLATION, DEVIATION OR SUBSTITUTION BY CARRIER:
  2. By way of example, and not limitation, Carrier may, without liability (except as provided in Section 6(e) with respect to mechanical failures only), deviate from any scheduled sailing and may otherwise land Passenger and her property at any port if Carrier believes that the voyage or any Passenger or property may be hindered or adversely affected as a result of hostilities, blockages, prevailing weather conditions, labor conflicts, strikes onboard or ashore, breakdown of Vessel, congestion, docking difficulties, medical or life saving emergencies or any other cause whatsoever.

Carnival Cruise Lines offers a similar disclaimer for any weather-related changes in itinerary or schedule. So be sure to check out the fine print and get a handle on what they take responsibility for. Because cruise lines even try to limit your right to sue them.

And if you travel with Celebrity Cruises, the same conditions apply. They say:

  1. CANCELLATION, DEVIATION OR SUBSTITUTION BY CARRIER:

…. Carrier may, without liability, deviate from any scheduled sailing and may otherwise land Passenger and her property at any port if Carrier believes that the voyage or any Passenger or property may be hindered or adversely affected as a result of hostilities, blockages, prevailing weather conditions, labor conflicts, strikes onboard or ashore, breakdown of Vessel, congestion, docking difficulties, medical or life-saving emergencies or any other cause whatsoever.

As you can see, the language is very nearly identical.  Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, and the others all tell a similar tale.

The covered weather-related issues for all of these cruise lines include squalls, heavy fogs, storms, and hurricanes. These will often lead to a change in itinerary or delays at the port or both. Storm Carib, the Caribbean Hurricane Network, keeps tabs on storms in that area, sorting them by location, decade, and peak, among other criteria. As a for-instance, St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands was hit with five storms during the decade of 2000 – 2009.

Date Highest Recorded Wind Category Name
August 22, 2000  75 MPH H1 Debby
August 22, 2001  58 MPH TS (tropical storm) Dean
September 15, 2004  69 MPH TS Jeanne
December 11, 2007  40 MPH TS Olga
October 16, 2008 132 MPH H4 Omar

 

Therefore, we can conclude that any cruise ships in the area were highly likely to have been diverted in October of 2008, and possibly also in August of 2000. As for the other instances, we would have to investigate further. And this is just St. Thomas, and it only covers one decade.

By the way, you can often score a better deal if you go on a cruise during hurricane season. Just don’t depend on the cruise getting to any of its stated destinations on predictable dates.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are, fortunately, somewhat predictable these days. While the exact number can vary, as can the first day of the annual season, we know that they will happen, and we usually can make an educated guess as to where they will originate from.

Not So Predictable Weather Issues

But then there are weather problems which do not lend themselves to such (somewhat) nice, neat predictive models. Meteorologists do their best, but even predicted hurricanes and squalls can still generate rogue waves. And those can even reach up to a height of one hundred feet!

Plus hurricanes and squalls at sea can occur, on average, a good ten times per each season. These present a far different case, and those are only two of the most common causes of weather-related cruise ship accidents.

As you might imagine, during potential weather hazards such as these, the cruise line is obligated to warn the passengers in advance. And if the cruise line fails to perform this most necessary task, then the cruise line could be faced with liability for any resulting accidents. For instance, these potential accidents can include a passenger falling overboard during one of these storms. In addition, the cruise line can also find themselves liable for any negligence by the staff captain or the cruise ship operator, if that negligence led to a passenger’s injuries or even their death.

So, what would be negligence on their part? It could be anything from failing to warn of rough seas to not properly maintaining hand rails. And it can even include the failure to adequately perform any needed search and rescue operations. Finally, it can also include failing to heed weather warnings and visiting ports anyway – because profits come from visiting ports.

How Can You Claim for Injuries on a Cruise Ship?

Recognize that, in order to pursue a claim as against the cruise line, you may be dealing with a mix of laws. The details and the circumstances are important for any accidents which occurred in the presence of severe weather conditions. It is possible that a victim of a weather-related maritime accident could be compensated for any injuries they or a loved one sustained. So be sure to protect yourself and your rights and contact an experienced admiralty and maritime attorney. You want someone who will vigorously pursue your interests in both negotiation and, if necessary, litigation. And with more than fifty years of combined the experience, the Moschetta Law Firm of Washington, Pennsylvania has an extensive understanding of both admiralty and maritime law. Contact us and find out what your rights are.