Complex Rules for the Injured at Sea

Escaping the office for a few days or a few weeks at sea carries great appeal. Those who choose to go on a vacation cruise, be it located in Alaskan waters, the Caribbean or elsewhere, will spend thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands, for a luxurious, carefree break from the rigors of daily life. But carefree does not mean danger-free, and vacationers have had their fun cut short after sustaining serious injury or even death on cruises.

Maritime Law

Maritime Law

On a typical vacation, such as at a hotel or resort, an injury or death could be the liability of the resort, and the case will be subject to the laws of the area in which the resort is located. If you slip and break your leg by a Los Angeles swimming pool, a California court would hear the case. However, there is no such thing as “Ocean Court” for at-sea injuries. These cases are subject to special laws called Maritime or Admiralty Laws. Much of Maritime Law evolved from centuries of seafaring tradition, similar to the way Common Law evolved from hundreds of years of community practices. In addition to regulating vacationers at sea, merchant marines traveling in international waters or workers on cruise ships are protected, and also limited, by Maritime Law.

Restrictions on Rights

These restrictions on your rights are important to remember when traveling by ship, whether for work or pleasure. On a cruise, these restrictions are printed on your ticket. By agreeing to go on the cruise, you are considered to have agreed to abide by, and be bound by, these rules. Injured cruisers are often required to file a lawsuit within a shorter period of time than the law requires, sometimes as little as six months, after getting back to the United States. If you wait too long, the court may dismiss your case because you did not follow the rules as specified by the cruise ship company.

U.S. Passenger on a European Ship in the Caribbean – What Laws Apply?

Complicating the issue even further is that lawsuits must be filed in a location specified by the cruise ship. This information is also on your ticket, and the location is often Florida, California or Washington – generally in the state where the company has their U.S. headquarters. This includes cruise ship companies, maritime shipping operations and companies with ships registered in other countries. As an example, Holland America Cruises operates in the Caribbean, is a Dutch company and has a U.S. office in Florida. The case would be heard in Florida.

Moving the Trial Closer to Home

Although injured cruisers can apply to have the case moved to their home state, courts generally do not honor these types of requests because it would require the cruise ship company to have a presence in nearly every legal jurisdiction when they may otherwise have no need to do so. All cases will be bound by federal law, the state laws which governs the port of departure and international treaties.

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Maritime law cases carry all the complexity of traditional injury or wrongful death cases, with the added complication of international treaties, the rules of your ticket and a trial in courts far from home. Contact us today if you have been injured on a cruise or while working at sea. Our attorneys are experienced in personal injury cases and how maritime laws can affect your rights. We can help you determine the best plan of action for your case.

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