This week several people died during cruises on ships owned by Carnival Corporation. A young seafarer died on the Carnival-owned Cunard Queen Victoria cruise ship. A crew member from the Carnival Conquest was crushed to death at the port of New Orleans. And most tragically, a 6 year-old boy needlessly drown on the Carnival Victory in a swimming pool which, incredibly, did not have a life-guard.
What do all of these seemingly unrelated incidents have in common?
Because of antiquated laws and recent legal developments advanced by the cruise industry, the cruise line will escape virtually all legal accountability for the deaths.
Let’s look first at the sad case of little 6 year old Qwentyn Hunter who died on the Carnival Victory last week. He died underwater in a swimming pool that Carnival decided not to supervise with a lifeguard for, what I believe to be, purely financial reasons.
A child on vacation dead at age 6.
Is it foreseeable that a child may drown in a pool? Of course. We have written recently about a 4 year old boy who is severely brain injured after slipping under the water on a cruise ship Disney which also didn’t bother to assign a lifeguard to the pool.
Put aside the debate whether the boy’s death was a lack of personal responsibility of the parents or a lack of corporate responsibility due to the the malfeasance of the cruise line (or both), what is the maximum exposure presented to Carnival?
The answer, sadly, is just the child’s burial and burial expenses. How is that possible?
There is a law in the U.S. called The Death On The High Seas Act ("DOHSA").
DOHSA is an archaic law enacted in 1920 which provides only "pecuniary" losses to the survivors of someone who dies on the high seas. "Pecuniary" damages means only those financial losses, such as lost wages or medical expenses, suffered by those who are dependent on the dead person. In cases of a dead child or a dead retiree, there are no lost wages and no one dependent on the child or retiree for support. In Qwentyn’s situation, there are obviously no lost wages or medical expenses. So all that the family could possibly receive in compensation after an expensive, long-drawn-out lawsuit is whatever it costs to bury a child these days.
If the cruise line is negligent for a child’s death in an unattended pool, it will pay a maximum of $10,000 or so if liability is proven. Big deal. From a financial perspective, the cruise line is ahead of the game by not paying millions to employ lifeguards on over a hundred Carnival cruise ships to keep the kids safe. Carnival’s Micky Arison, worth around 6 billion dollars, gets to keep his bounty.
Cruise lines love DOHSA. It exculpates the cruise lines when they act irresponsibly. The cruise industry has lobbied hard against amending the law. Read about that here and here. Don’t miss reading: What Does BP, Al Qaeda and a Cruise Line Have In Common?
Crew members who die due to the negligence of the cruise lines face the same hardship of DOHSA.
But that’s not all. The cruise lines have also fought tooth & nail to keep the claims of "foreign" crew members outside of the U.S. legal system and deprive injured crew members from having their cases heard by U.S. juries by insisting that they resolve their cases through "arbitration."
Read about this injustice here. The Filipinos face a "schedule" of compensation depending on the injury. A lost finger, or hand, or an arm may result in an award of only $7,500 or $25,000 or $35,000. A death? $50,000, plus only $7,000 per child with a limit of 4 children.
One of the worst cases involved a Filipino crew member who received 35% burns on his body in a clear case of the vessel operator’s negligence. At the ship owner’s request, the disabled and disfigured crew member’s case was dismissed from the U.S. legal system and sent to Manila where a Kangaroo Court awarded the burned Filipino just $1,870.00 (US).
The cruise lines don’t want you to understand what happens when the nice, smiling Filipino waiters or bartenders who serve your family are subsequently seriously injured or die on cruise ships. It is fundamentally different and absolutely unfair compared to when people are injured or die on land.
And this is exactly how the multi-billion dollar cruise industry wants it.
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