Twenty-seven years ago, a state appellate court in Florida held that a cruise line owes its passengers a duty to warn of known dangers beyond the point of debarkation in places where passengers are invited or reasonably expected to visit. Carlisle v. Ulysses Line Ltd., S.A.,475 So. 2d 248, 251 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1985).
The Carlisle case involved a horrific incident involving four passengers aboard the S.S. Dolphin on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. They were attracted to this particular cruise by promotional brochures advertising the beautiful beaches of Nassau. Upon arriving in Nassau, the two couples rented a jeep and headed for the beaches. Following the advice of the ship's cruise director, they traveled to a secluded beach and were ambushed by three masked gunmen who opened fire on them with shotguns. All four of them were wounded. Mr. Carlisle later died from a gunshot wound to his head. After the incident, the survivors learned from members of the ship's crew that other tourists and a member of the ship's crew had been victims of violent acts perpetrated in various places on the island. Bahamian police reported that the particular beach where plaintiffs were attacked was "very bad."
The cruise line denied that it had any obligation to passengers off of the cruise ship and further denied that it had a duty to warn of crime in the ports of call where it disembarked its passengers. The appellate court in Carlisle disagreed, holding that the cruise line's legal duty to its passengers does not end at the gangway and it must warn of dangers where the passenger is invited to, or may reasonably be expected to visit.
The court drew a distinction between "point to point" travel offered by an airline which clearly has no obligation to its passengers once they leave the airplane, and a cruise vacation where the cruise lines advertise (and profit from) the ports of call. Cruise lines have an ongoing duty to their passengers throughout the cruise experience. The decision makes sense. The cruise lines frequent the ports of call on at least a weekly basis; they have agents in the ports; and accordingly they are in a position to know far more about the ports than a passenger.
The federal trial courts in this jurisdiction have applied Carlisle, but the cruise lines have been trying to chip away at it for years. Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been trying to convince the federal judges that cruise lines should have no liability to the passengers once they step foot in port and they don't have to warn of dangers that they know about but their passengers don't.
Recently, Royal Caribbean was successful in obtaining an order ending a case filed against it after a young woman was sexually assaulted by men in Cozumel. The passenger alleged the cruise line knew that there were rapes and violent crimes against its passengers in this port but failed to warn them. You can read about this case, which is now on appeal, in our article: Royal Caribbean Smears Crime Victim & Gets Cozumel Rape Lawsuit Thrown Out Before Trial.
Last week, in a case we are handling, the cruise lines received a major set-back when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the rationale of the Carlisle decision and stated that cruise lines do in fact have an obligation to warn cruise passengers of the danger of crime of off the ships.
The case involved a 15 year old girl who was celebrating her quinceanera with her parents and brother on a Carnival cruise. A gang-related shoot out ended up with the girl being killed in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Carnival successfully argued at the trial court level that it had no obligation to the young girl or her family, but the federal appellate court reversed the lower court. The pertinent portions of the 11th Circuit's opinion are below:
"Liz Marie and Appellants (her parents and brother) took a vacation aboard a Carnival cruise ship, the M/V VICTORY. Appellants allege that an unidentified Carnival employee encouraged Liz Marie’s father and brother to visit Coki Beach and Coral World upon disembarking the ship in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. On July 12, 2010, Appellants left the ship and traveled to Coki Beach independently of the ship’s sponsored excursions in St. Thomas. On their way back to the ship from Coki Beach, Appellants and Liz Marie rode an open-air bus past a funeral service of a gang member who recently died in a gang-related shooting near Coki Beach. Cars of funeral attendees were parked along the narrow road, blocking the bus’s passage. While stuck in traffic, gang-related, retaliatory violence erupted at the funeral, shots were fired, and Liz Marie was killed on the bus as an innocent passerby.
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Appellants’ complaint alleges the following: a Carnival employee encouraged Appellants to visit Coki Beach in St. Thomas; Carnival was familiar with Coki Beach because it sold excursions there; Carnival generally knew of gang violence and public shootings in St. Thomas; Carnival knew of Coki Beach’s reputation for drug sales, theft, and gang violence; Carnival knew or should have known of the gang member’s shooting and funeral taking place near Coki Beach; Carnival failed to warn Appellants of any of these dangers; Carnival knew or should have known of these dangers because Carnival monitors crime in its ports of call; Carnival’s negligence in encouraging its passengers to visit Coki Beach and in failing to warn disembarking passengers of general and specific incidents of crime in St. Thomas and Coki Beach caused Liz Marie’s death; and Appellants have suffered various damages, including the loss of Liz Marie’s life. This negligent failure-to-warn claim is more than a mere recitation of the elements of the cause of action. The facts alleged in the complaint are plausible and raise a reasonable expectation that discovery could supply additional proof of Carnival’s liability. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S. Ct. at 1965. We consequently conclude that the district court erred in dismissing Appellants’ negligence claim under Iqbal."
You can read the entire decision here.
This is a significant decision because crime in the Caribbean islands (as well as Mexico) has been increasing over the years. We have written several dozen articles over the last couple of years about the murder, robbery and rape of cruise passengers ashore in ports of call in the Caribbean. Take a minute and read about the rash of crimes where cruise passengers are targeted: Armed Banditos Rob 22 Carnival Passengers on Excursion in Mexico.
Our firm retained appellate specialist Phil Parrish to write the winning brief. Carnival was represented by Curtis Mase and Valentina Tejera. You can read the lawsuit our law firm filed here.
The case is receiving national and international coverage:
ABC News: Vacation danger: Is cruise ship liable for perils on shore excursions?
Virgin Islands Daily News: Court rules lawsuit over slain teen tourist should be heard.
Photo Carnival Victory cruise ship bajan.wordpress.com