I received an email last week from a passenger who had been severely injured on a Carnival cruise. She had already undergone two surgeries and was facing a third surgery. She asked what's the statute of limitations for cruise line cases? I had the unpleasant job of telling her that it was too late to consider filing a lawsuit.
In most states, the statute of limitations is anywhere from two to five years. For maritime cases, there is a three year statute. However, in cruise line cases involving adults, passengers have just one year to file suit!
Technically, there is no "statute of limitations" for cruise ship injuries. Rather, there is a limitations period in the passenger ticket issued by the cruise line which contains the one year period in the "fine print." Courts have consistently enforced this limitations period.
Cruise lines know that many injured guests will not read the fine print in the ticket and think that they have two or three years to file suit. But if the passenger waits longer than one year, its too late - they have lost their rights and their case will be dismissed.
On the same day the Carnival passenger contacted me, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal decided this exact issue in no uncertain terms. In RAY RACCA v. CELEBRITY CRUISES, INC., ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES LTD, a passenger sustained a serious knee injury on April 30, 2006, resulting in several surgeries and a total knee replacement. He waited almost two years later to file suit on April 22, 2008. The cruise lines responded with a motion to have his case thrown out of court.
The passenger complained that the limitations period was buried in a 100 page cruise brochure and the one year limitations period was not reasonably communicated to him. The court acknowledge that most passenger do not read the ticket. However, after a serious injury which includes surgery, the Court concluded that it is not unreasonable to expect passengers to read the ticket and learn their legal rights. The court dismissed the passenger's case.
The court noted that the passenger also failed to provide written notice to the cruise line of his intention to seek compensation within six months of the accident, as also required by the ticket. Failure to do so may also result in your case being dismissed. We have discussed these issues in a prior article Cruise Passenger Rights and Wrongs - Interview With Maritime Lawyer Jim Walker.
If a child is injured or assaulted on a cruise ship, the limitations period is three years. If the child turns18, the case must then be filed within one year after turning 18.
There are even shorter limitations periods for lost luggage, stolen items, and issues not involving personal injury. If you are injured on a cruise ship, read your ticket!
These limitations apply only to passengers. Crew members have three years to file suit.
Credits: Artwork Maxim