Most crewmembers like their jobs. They work hard but take time to enjoy the camaraderie that exists between the crew. But when they bcome injured, and particularly if they are sent back home, they find it difficult to obtain medical treatment for their ship related injuries.
Many crewmembers employed by Princess Cruises have contacted us to inquire about their rights after being injured or becoming ill on Princess cruise ships.
Most crewmembers contact us via email after they have been sent home on "medical leave," but the cruise line refuses to timely provide them with medical treatment and payment of their living expenses.
Unfortunately, Princess keeps its crewmembers in the dark. Most crewmembers do not understand these basic maritime rights:
The Jones Act & the Right to a Safe Place to Work Aboard the Cruise Ship
The Jones Act is a U.S. law which requires maritime employers to provide their crew with a safe place to work. Under this law, cruise lines must operate their cruise ships in a safe and prudent manner. The types of cases which fall under the Jones Act include waiters slipping and falling in the galley, neck, back and wrist injuries due to carrying heavy trays, and back injuries due to heavy lifting.
If a crewmember’s injury is caused by the cruise line’s negligence (even the "slightest degree of negligence"), the crewmember is entitled to make a claim for lost wages and tips, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and medical expenses (in the past and the future).
The "Unseaworthiness" Doctrine – Strict Liability for Cruise Ship Injuries
Cruise lines are required to maintain and operate their cruise ships in a manner which does not cause injury to the crew employees. If any part of the vessel is dangerous and causes an injury to a crewmember, the cruise line faces liability for paying compensation to the crewmember. This liability exists without the necessity of proving that the cruise line was negligent. A cruise ship can be found to be "unseaworthy" if there is insufficient training of the crew, an insufficient number of employees to perform the work, or the crew is required to perform the work in a dangerous manner.
Under certain circumstances, the cruise ship can become "unseaworthy" when a crewmember attacks or sexually assaults a crewmate, particularly if a weapon or date rape drug is used.
As is the case with Jones Act negligence, a finding that the cruise ship is "unseaworthy" entitles the crewmember to the full range of damages – ranging from wages and medical expenses to pain and suffering and mental anguish (inconvenience, depression, anxiety).
Prompt and Adequate Shipboard Medical Treatment
Crewmembers who become ill or injured are entitled to prompt and adequate medical treatment from the ship doctor and nurse. If the condition cannot be treated satisfactorily on the cruise ship, crewmembers are entitled to seek medical treatment in the next port of call, including U.S. ports of call. Crew employees often work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. When they become injured or sick, unfortunately there is a mentality of the supervisors and officers that they "must keep working." Often the crew’s supervisors frown on complaints of being ill, injured, tired or mentally exhausted.
Sometimes waiters, bar staff and cleaners develop serious injuries carrying trays, lifting boxes, and working long hours. Their injuries can become serious and permanent due if there is a delay in treating the injury. Under the Jones Act, crew members have the right to seek compensation if their illness or injury is not treated in a timely and responsible manner.
"Maintenance and Cure"
Cruise lines like Princess are required to pay the crewmember’s living expenses (called "maintenance") and provide all necessary medical treatment (called "cure") when a crewmember is unable to work due to an injury or illness and needs to leave the cruise ship. Crewmembers are entitled to select their own doctor or switch to their own doctor if they are dissatisfied with the company doctor.
"Maintenance and cure" is a well-established legal doctrine which has existed in the U. S. since 1820. It can be dated back to the Medieval Sea Codes. Under this doctrine, cruise lines are legally obligated to treat their crew as if they were their children needing medical help.
We have found that Princess often does not pay living expenses or provide its crewmembers with medical treatment. Sometimes the cruise line requires the injured crewmember pay for his or her own medical treatment and then offer to possibly pay the bills later. This violates the law. As a practical matter, most crewmembers cannot afford to pay for surgeries or ongoing therapy. The result is that the medical condition worsens and the crewmember experiences additional pain and disability.
Under the "maintenance and cure" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation when the cruise line abandons or neglects in their home countries. In addition to the damages under the Jones Act and "unseaworthiness" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation for additional pain and suffering and mental anguish, unpaid medical and living expenses, and attorney fees. If the cruise line acted unreasonably, callously, arbitrarily, or capriciously, then the crewmember can seek "punitive damages" – designed to punish the cruise line for acting badly.
Princess Cruises’ Illegal "Employment Contract"
If you are a Princess crewmember reading this article, you probably have never heard of the Jones Act or the "unseaworthiness" and "maintenance and cure" doctrines. That’s because Princess does not explain these basic rights to you. You can read your "employment contract" a million times, but you will never find any reference to these rights.
Instead, Princess Cruises claims that a crewmember must submit to "arbitration" (without a jury) in Bermuda, and only the law of Bermuda applies. Of course, the cruise line selected Bermuda law because Bermuda does not have a Jones Act nor does it recognize the legal doctrines explained above.
However, U.S. courts have found that Princess’ "employment contract" and its "terms and conditions" which attempt to apply the law of Bermuda are illegal and unenforceable. Princess does not explain this either to its crewmembers.
About Princess Cruises – Doing Business in Florida
Princess Cruises is a cruise line headquartered in Santa Clarita, California. It is well known for the Pacific Princess which served as the cruise ship for the "Love Boat" television program.
Princess operates fourteen large cruise ships: Caribbean Princess, Coral Princess, Crown Princess, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Island Princess, Ruby Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess, Star Princess, and Sun Princess – as well as three smaller cruise ships, Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, and Royal Princess.
Princess Cruises registered its corporation and flagged its cruise ships in Bermuda in order to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. safety & labor laws. But Princess has its headquarters in Southern California with a huge base of operations in Broward County, Florida. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Miami based Carnival cruise lines. There are numerous lawsuits pending in Miami against Princess for injuries to Princess cruise employees around the world.
We have handled claims against Princess Cruises involving passengers and crewmembers. One of the most publicized case involved the death of a passenger due to a fire aboard the Star Princess. We represented the passenger’s children in that tragedy and one of our clients testified before our U.S. Congress regarding fire safety issues.
Photographs of Star Princess cruise ship Jim Walker’s Flickr page
Photographs of Princess crewmembers Princess Cruises Crew Members FaceBook Page ("This is for all the people who work onboard Princess’ ships and . . . lived for months on end in a prison cell they call a cabin, gotten drunk off of $1 beer and wine in the dungeon they call a crew bar.")