Maritime Accidents

You may be on a ship for a dream vacation or an important business opportunity. But when something goes wrong, everything changes in an instant. If you are injured or someone traveling with you dies, you may need to seek compensation. To file a lawsuit, you need an attorney with experience in complex maritime and admiralty law.
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Maritime law is the law that governs many incidents that occur on water. This may include cruise ships, commercial fishing boats, or barges.

At sea, there are often illnesses, accidents, deaths, explosions, breakdowns, and oil leaks. All of these situations have repercussions that may require lawsuits to help you get the justice your claim deserves.

Cruise Ship Accidents

Cruise ships, both large and small, are equipped with medical facilities. Usually, shipboard medical centers are able to provide medical care similar to that of ambulatory care centers. Some are also able to provide hospitalization services. (1)

Illness Statistics

Roughly 3% to 11% of passenger injuries and other conditions reported to medical centers are urgent or considered an emergency. Most injuries or illnesses can be treated or managed onboard. However, a percentage of medical, surgical, or dental problems require evacuation or shore-side consultation. (2)

Cruise ship medical centers handle multiple types of illnesses and injuries. Acute illnesses are the most frequently reported diagnoses: (3)

  • Respiratory illnesses: 19–29%.
  • Seasickness: 10–25%.
  • Injuries from slips, trips, or falls: 12–18%.
  • Gastrointestinal illnesses: 9–10%.

Sometimes, passengers die. Deaths usually result from cardiovascular events. (4)

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Cruise Ship Injuries

One study, investigating cruise ship injuries for 3 years, found 633 occurred on board. Of these, 12.5% were serious — leading to hospitalization ashore or no full recovery expected within two weeks. (5)

Researchers found 44.8% of passenger injuries on the ship were due to slips, trips, and falls. (6)

The most common accident locations on board the ship were: (7)

  • Cabins: 20.1%.
  • Bathrooms: 13.4%.

Maritime Injuries

Injury claims for passengers are based on maritime law. “Maritime personal injury and death actions are governed by a set of rules that are separate and distinct” from the common law that usually governs such cases. (8)

Any number of injuries can occur on a ship or boat. Injuries happen to seamen and longshoremen, friends and family of recreational boaters, and boat and cruise ship passengers.

You can:

Suits can be brought by passengers against vessel owners and operators.

“Damages that may be recovered in maritime personal injury cases include” these, depending where they occur: (9)

  • Loss of past and future wages.
  • Loss of future earning capacity.
  • Pain, suffering, and mental anguish.
  • Past and future medical expenses.
  • Other condition related expenses.

Maritime Law

Maritime law is also referred to as admiralty law.

Maritime laws govern navigation and shipping, including: (10)

  • Waters.
  • Commerce.
  • Wharves, piers, and docks.
  • Insurance.
  • Recreation.

American maritime law applies to accidents in “any waters navigable within the United States for interstate or foreign commerce.” (11) The jurisdiction of maritime law includes recreational boating.

Maritime law usually falls “under the jurisdiction of the federal district courts.” Also, in admiralty, a ship’s flag may determine the source of law. (12)

For example, a ship flying the American flag in foreign waters would be subject to American admiralty law. On the other hand, a ship flying a British flag, an Italian flag, or any other country’s flag in American waters may be subject to that specific country’s admiralty law.

Proving Negligence

When a cruise ship leaves out of a U.S. port, “federal maritime law generally applies.” Under maritime law, personal injury cases involving injuries, illnesses, and death are governed “by basic principles of negligence law.” (13)

Ship owners, operators, and employees owe passengers a legal duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. To hold a ship or cruise line liable for an injury, you must show the cruise line or their employees were negligent. (14)

Negligence requires proving the ship had a duty to protect against harm. You must show that the ship breached that duty, you were injured, and the breach of that duty caused the harm. (15)

Negligence is a “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act.” (16)

Filing Maritime Claims

Basic legal theories are one thing, but dealing with the complications of personal injury suits under maritime law is complicated. Bringing a case against a massive ocean cruise line that travels in both U.S. and foreign waters is challenging. (17)

Each individual case is highly specific and highly specialized. Numerous legal standards govern personal injury and wrongful death when it comes to maritime law. A novice attorney could be very well meaning but make mistakes that lose the case. (18)

Statutes of Limitations

Attorneys have to rely on different standards of proof. Also, shorter statutes of limitations and the intricate complexities of maritime law can be daunting for attorneys not experienced in handling these types of cases. (19)

Generally, passengers on cruise ships have three years from the accident to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Sometimes, a cruise line will try to shorten the time “with a notice requirement set at six months.” This requirement “can complicate damages calculations such as determining the total amount of medical bills or assessing the extent of lasting injury.” (20)

Legal Jurisdiction

In addition, attorneys must determine jurisdiction, typically based on the ticket. Your boarding pass and ticket may provide this kind of information, but the details can be complicated. Depending on where the ship departs, travels, and docks also adds complexity to an already challenging process. (21)

Which court is the correct one for jurisdiction is a problem admiralty attorneys deal with all the time. Attorneys inexperienced with such accidents do not know how to go about choosing which court they should file in.

Another issue is whether or not a jury will be allowed in the case. That also depends on not only which court to file in, but also how the Complaint is worded.

What to Do If You’ve Been Injured in a Maritime Accident

If you are injured on a ship or boat, the first thing to do is seek treatment from the medical facility on board. The ship’s medical personnel takes down details of your injury or illness. Ships must keep a record of incident and accident reports. (22)

If you have concerns about possible negligence on part of a cruise line, you can pursue these concerns with the cruise line itself. But time matters. If the cruise line is not able to address your concerns immediately, seek your own legal guidance right away. (23)

When it comes to filing personal injury claims, your window to seek compensation is limited. If you have an accident while at sea, it doesn’t matter if it was a large cruise ship or a private recreational boat. More than likely, the case is governed by maritime law, not the law of the state where the accident occurred.

If you or a loved one were injured in a maritime accident, you may be eligible for compensation.

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Finding Maritime Law Attorneys

“Maritime law is incredibly complex and intricate. So it is critical to consult with a firm that has handled maritime law cases before and has a solid history of winning,” says Lawrence B. Goldhirsch, trial counsel at W&L.

Weitz & Luxenberg has maritime law experience from many years of representing people injured on ships and other vessels. These cases include slip-and-fall accidents while onboard, asbestos poisoning due to ship insulation, and the wrongful death of passengers on the high seas, on vessels and airplanes, both in U.S and international waterways.

Goldhirsch has tried maritime cases on behalf of passengers for their injuries and governments for their cleanup expenses, “There are many issues that can affect the outcome of a maritime or admiralty case. Therefore, these cases should only be undertaken by attorneys with prior experience.”

He continues, “For example, it is necessary to overcome a limitation proceeding in many of these cases. This is a defense that only ship owners are entitled to in the U.S. It limits the recovery an injured person can receive in a maritime case.”

How W&L Can Help

W&L has a very knowledgeable and capable legal team.

Here are just a couple examples of wins for our clients:

  • W&L achieved a very large settlement for a woman injured when a boat crossed the wake of the deck she was relaxing on. The incident left her with fractured vertebrae and the inability to walk normally. She received compensation for her loss of mobility, pain and suffering.
  • When 18 men working on a ship were lost at sea, W&L got their wives a substantial financial settlement. Our firm used expert testimony to prove that the ship they were on was not seaworthy, so the owners were held liable for negligence.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 24). Chapter 8. Travel by Air, Land & Sea. Cruise Ship Travel. Retrieved from https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/travel-by-air-land-sea/cruise-ship-travel
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Dahl, E. (2010). Passenger accidents and injuries reported during 3 years on a cruise ship. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20496320/
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Force, R. (2013). Admiralty and Maritime Law. Second Edition. Retrieved from https://www.fjc.gov/sites/default/files/2014/Admiralty2d.pdf
  9. Ibid.
  10. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Admiralty: An Overview. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/admiralty
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Davis, J.B. (2020, June 1). Suing a cruise line? There are a boatload of challenges unique to the industry. Retrieved from https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/plaintiffs-attorneys-suing-cruise-lines-must-navigate-a-boatload-of-challenges-unique-to-the-industry
  14. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Negligence. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence
  15. Davis, J.B. (2020, June 1). Suing a cruise line? There are a boatload of challenges unique to the industry. Retrieved from https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/plaintiffs-attorneys-suing-cruise-lines-must-navigate-a-boatload-of-challenges-unique-to-the-industry
  16. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Negligence. Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence
  17. Davis, J.B. (2020, June 1). Suing a cruise line? There are a boatload of challenges unique to the industry. Retrieved from https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/plaintiffs-attorneys-suing-cruise-lines-must-navigate-a-boatload-of-challenges-unique-to-the-industry
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 24). Chapter 8. Travel by Air, Land & Sea. Cruise Ship Travel. Retrieved from https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/travel-by-air-land-sea/cruise-ship-travel
  23. U.S. Department of Transportation. (2014, October 22). Passenger Cruise Ship Information. Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/mission/safety/passenger-cruise-ship-information

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