Yah Mon! Cruise Law Goes to Jamaica

Tomorrow the lawyers here at our firm are traveling again to Jamaica.

We'll be visiting our clients to see how they are doing. I will be meeting friends in Falmouth and will see if there has been any signs of the revitalization of the town after the new Royal Caribbean port destroyed ancient coral reefs and native mangroves to make way for the Oasis and Allure of the Seas

We will also make ourselves available to meet with any crew members who need to learn about the Injured Crew Members - Jamaica - Lawyers legal rights of cruise ship employees who become ill or injured on cruise ships. 

I will be arriving at Montego Bay tomorrow morning and I will be available to meet with crew members or their family for two days (Monday and Tuesday). I'll  be hosting a free conference at the "Jamaica No Problem Room" in the beautiful Hibiscus Lodge in Ocho Rio. The address is 83 Main Street in Ocho Rios. Please come with your questions or concerns. No fee or obligation of course.

My co-counsel Jonathan Aronson will be will me.

The photo above was from a prior visit to the famous "No Problem Room." 

If Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney or some other cruise line has treated you poorly after you were injured on the ship, or if you have medical problems like hypertension, diabetes, cancer or other illnesses which require treatment, please don't hesitate to contact me. 

And if you can't come to the clinic, no problem.  Please email me at jim@cruiselaw.com and I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have and can call you to discuss your concerns if you wish. 

Cruise Passengers: Do You Really Complain About Your Cruise Vacations?

Crew Member Rights - Cruise ShipOur law firm receives anywhere from a dozen to several dozen e-mails a day from people complaining about every imaginable problem on the high seas. 

We divide the complaints into two general categories - complaints by passengers and complaints by crew members.

Cruise passengers complain about all types of things, like the food was bad, they missed a port of call because of bad weather, the cabins next to them were too loud, the service was bad, or they object to automatic gratuities being deducted from their accounts.  It drives me crazy. 

Yes, there are legitimate complaints too, like being seriously injured or being a victim of a crime during a cruise. But the petty "I-was-inconvenienced-and-I-want-a-free-cruise" complainers out number the legitimately injured by 10 to 1.

Crew members, on the other hand, are a different breed. They are inconvenienced every day. That goes without saying. Long hours, low pay, shrinking tips and having to deal with whiny guests are just a normal day at sea.  Who are they going to complain to anyway? There are no true unions. There are no legitimate maritime oversight bodies that can do anything. And if they complain about the hard work or excessive hours or minimal pay to their supervisors, they are likely to be fired.

And the true seafarers working on tankers, bulk carriers and large freighters?  They are the bravest of the brave. Subject to the hazards of the sea, the largely Indian and Filipino seafarers are the backbone of the maritime community.

So when you come home from a cruise vacation and are about to write a harsh review to Cruise Critic and bitch & whine about the crew members, keep in mind that your worst cruise is probably better than the best day a crew member may experience on the same ship.           

Video Credit: Seafarers Facebook page

  

Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights: A Step in the Wrong Direction?

Late yesterday afternoon the cruise industry's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), announced in a press release that it was adopting a cruise passenger "Bill of Rights."

The "Bill of Rights" is primarily a reaction to the adverse publicity following the Triumph "cruise from hell" stories where passengers were stuck on the disabled and sewage filled Carnival cruise ship without electricity, running water or operational toilets.   

The "Bill of Rights" is being largely praised as a step in the right direction, but there are a number of problems that most people in the media are missing. 

First, the "rights" actually contain limitations of liability. In disasters like the Carnival Triumph, a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rightspassenger would have very limited recourse. The "Bill of Rights" provide only for "a partial refund for voyages that are terminated early" due to mechanical failures.

After the Triumph fiasco, Carnival not only fully reimbursed the passengers their cruise fare, but provided them with a free voucher for a future cruise, waived all on board purchases and reimbursed the passengers' travel expenses. Carnival also gave each passenger $500. Ironically, the proposed passenger Bill of Rights actually provides substantially less compensation than Carnival previously provided to the passengers voluntarily.

CLIA representative David Peikin is quoted in the Miami Herald saying that "the rights will become part of passengers’ contracts of carriage and will be legally enforceable."  This means that the very limited compensation of only a "partial refund" in a "cruise from hell" situation can be legally enforced by the cruise lines against the passenger!  In Triumph-like poop cruises, passengers will not be entitled to a full refund, or a free cruise voucher, or a waiver of onboard charges, or cash compensation. The bill is actually taking rights away from the passengers. 

The cruise Bill of Rights is a strategic move to preempt Sen. Charles Schumer from introducing a more stringent bill before the U.S. Senate and to avoid a bill which may be enacted into law with penalties and fines.

The Bill of Rights is entirely voluntary and there will be no financial consequences or punitive measures if the cruise lines violate the enumerated rights of the passengers.

It is nothing more or less than a promise to treat the cruise passengers right.

Historically, there may be cause to question the cruise lines' sincerity. A number of years ago, Crystal Cruises promised to never dump wastewater in the Monterey Marine Sanctuary. Later, the cruise line was caught dumping over 35,000 gallons of waste and sewage into the protected waters. As cruise expert Ross Klein pointed out in his testimony before Congress, the cruise line responded by stating that we did not break the law, merely our promise.

If the cruise lines are serious about extending rights to the passengers, then they should propose that the Bill of Rights be enacted into statutory law with certain penalties to be imposed against them if they violate their guests rights.

There are also some parts of the "Bill of Rights" which are misleading.

For example, one of the rights is "the right to have available on board ships… professional emergency medical attention…"

This sounds great. However, passenger tickets of all cruise lines state that ship doctors and nurses are independent contractors for whom the cruise lines are not responsible. In cases where the cruise passengers are seriously injured or killed due to the absence of appropriately trained and experienced medical providers on cruise ships, the cruise lines refer to the language in the passenger tickets and argue that they are not responsible. A cruise ship is the only place in the world where you can be a victim of medical malpractice and have no recourse whatsoever.

Will the cruise lines remove this exculpatory language in the passenger tickets? I am sure that they won't. As such, this provision in the Bill of Rights is not only meaningless but it is misleading and potentially fraudulent.

If the cruise industry wanted to be transparent and agree to extend meaningful rights to cruise passengers, it would state clearly that passengers have the right to seek relief when they are maimed or killed by incompetent ship doctors. It should also agree that there are no limitations of liability that the cruise lines can legally enforce.  

The biggest problem with the Bill of Rights is that it primarily addresses inconveniences and nuisances which cruise passengers may face from time to time. It includes no rights regarding more important matters, such as when the cruise passenger is a victim of a crime.

The cruise news recently has been dominated by a controversy involving a 33 year old Disney crew member who molested an eleven year girl on the Disney Dream cruise ship. It is alleged that the cruise line refused to timely report the incident, which occurred in U.S. waters in Port Canaveral, to the local police. The cruise ship then left the jurisdiction and sailed to the Bahamas where it was impossible to obtain a criminal prosecution. The crew member is now free at home in India and the victim and her family are left with no justice.

In order to deal with outrageous situations like this, the proposed cruise passenger Bill of Rights should contain rights which require the cruise line to immediately report crimes to the local authorities, require the disclosure of surveillance videos and statements that may assist in the prosecution of crew ship criminals, and include significant penalties when the cruise lines do not behave appropriately.

May 24 2013 Updates

Schumer Not Satisfied with Cruise Industry "Passenger Bill of Rights"

What can cruise passengers expect from their own Bill of Rights?

Carnival Triumph Passengers Happy to Be Home

Carnival Cruise Triumph FireThe long tortuous tow back to Mobile ended last night with smiles of relief on the faces of the over-3,000-passengers as they straggled off the stinking stricken Triumph.  It was a happy sight to me. Yes, there were people still upset, understandably so, but the sentiment seems to be that they had all encountered a surreal experienced and had survived.

Cruise ship fires do not always turn out this well.  I have represented clients who waved goodbye to their loved one as they boarded a cruise ship only to return in a body bag.

Yesterday I was asked a dozen times during interviews about the rights of passengers when things like this happen on the high seas.  

The cruise lines have drafted terms and conditions in the cruise passenger tickets (considered by the courts to be the legal, binding contract) to protect themselves in virtually every imaginable circumstance.  Unless a passenger is physically injured or become physically ill (say due to the unsanitary conditions of sewage on the ship), they have virtually no rights at all.

The good news is that It appears that there were no injuries due to the fire. There very well may be no serious medical illnesses notwithstanding the seriously disgusting circumstances aboard the ship.       

  

 

Photo credit: Getty Images / NY Daily News

Cruising, "Eh!" to Z! What Canadians Should Know Before Getting On-Board . . .

Danielle Gauer, JD Candidate 2013 University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, joins us for another guest blog.  You can read about Danielle's background and read her first guest blog here. This blog is an interesting inside look at cruising for our friends north of the border:

More and more Canadians are looking for a way to escape the cold and snow during the winter months and instead catch some sun. Cruise ships seem like the perfect way to spend a family vacation offering passengers an experience similar to that of a five star all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. With luxury travel, activities catered to the entire family, world class-cuisine and entertainment, and Canada Cruise Shipssome of the most fascinating ports of call, Canadians are hopping on-board these monster ships to enjoy the family vacation of their lives. However, with the move towards accommodating more passengers and offering more “risky” activities, such as rock-climbing and surf simulators, there is inevitably an increased possibility of catastrophe occurring.

When serious personal injury arises as a result of negligence on the part of the cruise line, it is imperative that Canadian cruise ship passengers know how to assert their rights and obtain compensation for their damages. Being injured on-board a cruise ship is frustrating. Injured passengers also experience physical, emotional and financial loss. In many situations, Canadians fear that taking legal action in the U.S. will be pointless. They can feel defeated at the outset. The choice not to advance their rights can stem simply from the perception that retaining a U.S. attorney can be expensive and time consuming. The thought of “competing” against a large corporate enterprise, that has equipped itself with a team of lawyers that have unlimited resources at their disposal, can be intimidating.

When Canadians pay for a vacation on a cruise ship, they also agree to certain contractual terms and conditions. Cruise ticket contracts generally include a “forum selection clause” stating where a lawsuit can be brought. This informs the passenger where they can file documents to commence legal action against the cruise line. Most cruise ship companies have inserted an exclusive foreign selection clause in their cruise ticket contract. What this means is that when signed, passengers have submitted to the jurisdiction chosen by the defendant cruise line, whether it is the State of Florida (Carnival and Royal Caribbean), California (Princess), or Washington (Holland America Line). This limits the plaintiff’s choice in selecting a location to file a lawsuit that is more convenient and close to home (i.e. in Canada).

Sometimes these ticket contracts may include clauses that place a limit on the types of lawsuits that a plaintiff can bring. Some of these conditions are valid and legally enforceable; other conditions are illegal and unenforceable. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines has inserted a clause to limit its liability for injuries or damages resulting from participating in specific activities on-board (i.e. rock Canada Cruise Ship Passengersclimbing wall, ice skating, onboard water-slides). Royal Caribbean has similar conditions which attempt to protect the cruise line from lawsuits arising out of injuries from participating in flow-riding or zip-lining. These types of conditions have been struck down in Florida although the cruise lines still insert the illegal language in their passengers contracts.

Before commencing an action against a cruise line, Canadians must be aware of any clauses in the passenger ticket contract that can limit their claims. Canadian laws make it difficult to challenge forum selection clauses in cruise ship contracts, so Canadian plaintiffs should be fully aware of those challenges before contemplating litigation in Canada instead of the United States. Contacting a US attorney who specializes in cruise ship litigation will helpful as they will be fully equipped with the resources and knowledge to assert their client’s rights and allow a Canadian plaintiff to obtain the most accurate information regarding their claim.

Canadians should also realize that passengers have only one year to file suit, and most cruise lines require that the passenger notify them in writing of their intention to file suit within six months.  

Cruises can be very enjoyable, but Canadian passengers should be aware of their rights before getting on-board!

 

Photo credit: "Winter in Ottawa" - Danielle Gauer

Four More Years - What President Obama's Re-Election Means For Cruise Passengers & Crew Members

The election yesterday was an important event for U.S. cruise passengers and crew members from around the world.

Whether you know it or not, there is a war being waged by large corporations against consumers and employees. The trend of big business has been to strip consumers of their rights, to take away the constitutional right to a jury trial, to impose one-sided arbitration agreements which favor the cruise lines, and to try and keep crew members from accessing the courthouses in the U.S. even thought the cruise lines are based here.

Federal court judges appointed by Republican presidents have already stripped away many of the rights of crew members to seek compensation under maritime legal doctrines dating back to the early 1800's. Cruise lines see "foreign" crew members from India and the Caribbean islands as cheap labor, nothing more, who are easily exploitable with the tacit approval of politicians like Romney who favor the out-sourcing of jobs to impoverished countries with no laws which protect employees.   

A Republican president and the Republican's let's-trust-the-corporations-to-do-the-right-thing attitude would also have resulted in the peeling back of clean air and water regulations. A Romney in the White House would have permitted the cruise lines to maximize profits at the expense of the environment.

Last night I watched the election returns, flicking between CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News while trying to keep up with the millions of tweets on my computer's Twitter feed. There on FOX were the old guard, Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly and those referred to collectively as fat, rich, old white men.  Bill O'Reilly bemoaned the election results as the loss of the "white majority." He railed against President Obama's re-election as the result of a large turn-out by "black" and "Hispanic" voters as well as a disproportionate number of "women." It was a nasty, depressing spectacle to watch these tired, old, xenophobic men on FOX.

Four More Years - President ObamaThen the Obama organization tweeted a photo of the President and the First Lady, hugging, with the tweet "Four More Years." The timing was perfect. The photo has been re-tweeted more than anything in the history of Twitter. 

I have a large photograph in my law office of a client, Laurie Dishman.  Laurie was victimized on a cruise ship operated by a Miami based cruise line. It was a terrible crime. But in the photo she is shown smiling with President Obama who has his arm around her, after he signed the 2008 Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act into law. The law was signed into law by President Obama to protect passengers on foreign flagged cruise ships.

I know that President Obama will think of people like Laurie when the billion dollar cruise corporations like Carnival try to enact legislation which promotes their financial interests over the rights of consumers. He will think of everyone, not just the rich, but black and white workers, Hispanics, women, and those who need help the most.      

President Obama brought hope to my client, Laurie. He represents the only real hope to the powerless, and those underdogs like Laurie who choose to fight for justice against giant corporations.   

Local Television Investigation: "Cruise Passengers Have Few Rights"

WRAL television in North Carolina published a story today which reveals how cruise lines protect themselves from passenger claims by severely limiting the passenger's rights in the cruise tickets.

Entitled "Cruise Passengers Have Few Rights," the article addresses the plight of a family in North Carolina who purchased a family cruise to Grand Cayman and Jamaica on Carnival's Destiny cruise ship, but never saw those ports because of a propulsion issue.

The cruise ship was delayed leaving Miami and then ended up porting only at Nassau in the Bahamas which is less than 200 miles from Miami. The other four days, the family and the other passengers were stuck on the cruise ship.

For "compensation," Carnival gave each passenger only a $75 credit to use on board, even though the family spent close to $1,400 for the cruise.

This was not the first time this cruise ship had propulsion problems.

WRAL indicates that it found a propulsion problem dating to 2000.  Additional complaints began again in September and continued even after the cruise in question. 

 

 

WRAL asked the question: "What rights do customers have when their cruise doesn't go as planned?

"Based on the fine print on tickets, cruise ship passengers don't have any right to compensation if the ship's itinerary is changed.

Passengers can file a complaint with the Federal Maritime Commission, but that agency can only pass along the complaint to the cruise line. The agency cannot make a cruise line do anything.

The Federal Trade Commission also accepts complaints about cruise lines. The agency, however, does not get involved in resolving individual complaints  .  .  ."

As we have explained in prior articles, the cruise lines have spent years drafting their passenger tickets to take away passenger's rights.  The cruise industry knows that cruise passengers upset at one cruise line, will just go to another cruise line - and visa-versa.  So these aggrieved passengers on the Carnival cruise will book their next cruise with Royal Caribbean.  Carnival doesn't care because the passengers upset with Royal Caribbean for a similar problem will jump ship from Royal and begin cruising with Carnival.  

Cruise passengers need a bill of rights, similar to airline passengers. 

 

Credits:    WRAL.com North Carolina