Lawyers USA (@LawyersUSA) just published an interesting article entitled "Federal Cruise Ship Bill Pending in Congress but Plaintiff’s Lawyers Say Measure doesn’t Hold Water." Written by Sylvia Hsieh, the article discusses what’s new in the specialized field of cruise ship litigation.
The article features our firm and our clients and friends.
The article first mentions the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 which will require peep holes on passenger doors, technology for overboard passengers, mandatory reporting of shipboard crimes, and training for crime scene preservation in light of the large number of shipboard rapes on cruise ships.
Firm client Laurie Dishman, friend Ken Carver, and the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization are credited for spearheading the legislation. Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver were victimized by cruise line giant Royal Caribbean in separate cruise incidents. Ms. Dishman was a victim of sexual assault on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship in 2006. Mr. Carver’s daughter Merrian disappeared in 2004 during a cruise aboard the Mercury, operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary Celebrity Cruises.
In both cases, the cruise line tried to cover the incidents up and treated Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver dreadfully. In response, Mr. Carver created the ICV which advocates safety for passengers on cruise ships. Ms. Dishman is on the ICV’s Board of Directors.
The cruise safety bill should be voted on by the House of Representatives as early as next week.
The article points out that the proposed legislation falls short in a number of areas. The bill originally included an amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), which currently deprives damages to family members of passengers or crew members who die in international waters. I have written about DOHSA in a previous blog entitled "The Death on the High Seas Act – Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years."
The cruise industry’s trade organization Cruise Line International Association (@CruiseFacts) killed the amendment after spending millions of its tax-free-money to lobby Congress. The article refers to CLIA lawyer Michael Crye, who admits the cruise industry opposes amending DOHSA "but he could not provide a reason for the opposition."
This is typical of CLIA’s lack of candor. The cruise industry opposes amending DOHSA because families will finally be fairly compensated when a loved one is killed on a cruise. Cruise lines simply wish to avoid paying the compensation.
The article quotes Los Angeles attorney Michael Ehline, a good friend of the firm, that foreign flagged cruise ships consider themselves to be countries unto themselves.
"Arbitration" of Crew Member Cases
A hot topic in the world of cruise law is arbitration of claims involving injured crew members, who comprise over 98% of the cruise industry shipboard work force. All cruise lines are now forcing crew members to pursue their claims in arbitration, where the crew members lose the right to a jury trial. Some cruise lines are requiring the arbitration to take place in either the country of the flag of the cruise ship or the crew member’s home country.
This is pretty much a joke, and some cruise line defense lawyers agree privately. This is why the article states that "attorneys for Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines did not return calls seeking comment for this article."
The Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit recently held that, in certain circumstances, cruise lines may compel the crew member to arbitration outside of the U.S. However, they cannot take away all of the crew member’s rights by trying to apply foreign law.
Injuries and Death of Cruise Passengers During Cruise Sponsored Excursions
The article also addresses injuries to passengers during excursions. The law requires cruise lines to exercise reasonable care in selecting shore excursions for its passengers. Cruise lines are required to properly investigate whether the excursion companies have a good safety record and operate the excursions responsibly.
We have handed a wide variety of "excursion cases," including cases where passengers have been sexually assaulted ashore and even during snorkeling and diving excursions.
CLIA’s lawyer Mr. Crye is quoted as gleefully saying that it is a “difficult stretch to attempt to hold a cruise line liable for activity that occurs on an excursion operated by a different company in a foreign country.” However, cruise ships collect hundreds of millions of dollars promoting cruise excursions. Cruise lines face accountability when dangerous excursions kill or seriously injure passengers.
The article also refers to cruise line lawyer Darren Friedman, a partner with Miami’s Maltzman Foreman law firm, which represents numerous cruise lines. His firm defended Royal Caribbean in the high profile cases involving Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver.
Whenever we see Mr. Friedman or his firm involved in a case, the cruise line is usually guilty as hell.