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What Laws Are Cruise Lines Subject to After a Passenger Is Injured?

Jurisdiction is straightforward when you are injured in a car accident. However, when you are injured on a cruise ship, jurisdiction is far more complicated because one or more of the responsible parties may operate from another country.

Cruise lines are responsible for “reasonable care” of passengers, and passengers injured while on a cruise may file suit as if they had been injured on shore due to third party negligence. Passengers bear the burden of proof that the cruise line was negligent. Determining which laws apply after a cruise ship injury is complex, and you need to work with a cruise accident attorney with experience specific to cruise injury cases to succeed against a cruise line in court.

Where the Ship Was When You Were Injured Is a Determinant

The specifics of your cruise line accident lawsuit partly depend on where the ship was located when you were injured. Different laws apply depending on this location, whether the ship departed from a US port, and whether the ship sails under the US flag or that of another country. A cruise accident attorney must know how to tease apart the complicated factors determining which laws apply in your specific case.

The Country in Which the Ship Is Registered Is Important

Most cruise ships are registered in countries other than the US. Therefore it is generally the responsibility of that country’s government to investigate accidents on board these ships. Unfortunately, some of those countries do not investigate, and it can be difficult for US authorities to investigate cruise lines and prosecute them for wrongdoing. However, if the cruise line’s principal place of business or base of operations is in the US, then US laws generally protect passengers in civil lawsuits filed in the US.

When You’re Injured in Territorial Waters Close to US Shores

If, for example, you were injured on a cruise in territorial waters near US shores, state laws may apply. So, if you were injured on a cruise ship within three miles of the Florida coast, you may be protected under Florida law. However, on the typical ocean cruise, you spend much more time in international waters, and it’s more likely that if you’re injured, it’s going to take place while in international waters.

United States General Maritime Law

US general maritime law applies when a US citizen is injured on a cruise ship that sails out of US waters. Whether the ship is flagged under another country, say, Panama or Norway, if it sails from a US port and a US citizen is injured, US general maritime law applies. If you are hurt and file a cruise line accident lawsuit, your lawyer may base your claim on US general maritime law. International maritime laws apply when ships are located in international waters. If someone dies onboard a cruise ship in international waters, the Death on the High Seas Act applies.

As you can see, filing a lawsuit after being injured on a cruise ship is not a simple process. That’s why you need a cruise accident attorney who understands the ways in which cruise lines try to deflect lawsuits, and knows which laws apply in a particular situation.

Cruise lines have operated with little scrutiny for decades, because cruise injury cases rarely receive media coverage. However, with several high profile cases in 2012 and 2013, this could be changing. If you are injured on a cruise, don’t just give up. Speak with a cruise accident lawyer at your first opportunity.


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