It’s been about a week since cruise passengers Dongayla Dobson and Amber Shearer disembarked from the Carnival Elation and visited the Pirate’s Cove resort in Freeport, Bahamas where two Bahamian employees, at a beach resort advertised by Carnival, reportedly sexually assaulted them. You can read more about the facts of this terrible situation below:

Over the past week, Carnival and Pirate’s Cove have both tried to distance themselves from the fall -out from these horrific alleged crimes. Carnival’s PR representatives released a statement which claims that the attack occurred when Ms. Dobson and Ms. Shearer were “ashore in Freeport, Bahamas on an independent shore excursion.”

As we mentioned in our initial article, the legal duty of a cruise line to warn guests of the danger of crimes in ports of call is the same regardless of whether they are on an excursion promoted and sold by the cruise line or whether the guests selected the tour on their own.

There are a number of online discussions taking place regarding the potential legal responsibility of a cruise line when a guest is injured during a crime ashore during an excursion. Many people erroneously assume that there is no potential liability of the cruise line unless the crime occurred during an excursion sponsored by the cruise line. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The case law in this jurisdiction clearly indicates that there is an ongoing legal duty throughout the cruise to warn guests of not only the danger of crimes on the ship but during shore excursions ashore. This is true regardless of whether the excursion is a “private” tour or an excursion officially advertised, sponsored and sold by the cruise line.

A Cruise is Not Considered to be Point to Point Travel

The courts have long drawn 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 warn their passengers throughout the cruise experience. The decision makes sense. The cruise lines frequent the ports where they call 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 Carlisle Decision in 1985

Nearly 40 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. The seminal case is Carlisle v. Ulysses Line Ltd., S.A, 475 So. 2d 248 (Fla. 1985).

The Carlisle case arises from a terrible incident involving four passengers aboard the S.S. Dolphin on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas operated by Dolphin Cruise Line (which I previously represented). The passengers 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 where they 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.”

A Cruise Line’s Duty to its Passengers Does Not End at the Gangway

Dolphin 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. 

Cruise Lines Try to Escape Liability When They Take Passengers to Dangerous Ports of Call

The federal trial courts in this jurisdiction (where cruise passengers are required to file suit) 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 federal judges that they have no liability to the passengers once they step foot in port and they do not have to warn of dangers that they know about but that their passengers don’t.

Expanding CarlisleChaparro v. Carnival in 2012

In 2012, in a case we handled, the cruise lines received a major set-back when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appellate court for Florida) 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 off their ships. The case is Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir, 2012).

The case involved a 15 year old girl who was celebrating her quinceanera with her parents and brother on a Carnival cruise (the Carnival Victory). One of the ports-of-call was St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unbeknownst to the Chaparros, but well known to Carnival, was the fact that the capital city of St. Thomas, and particularly an area known as Coki Beach, at Coki Point, had become the scene of rampant gang related violence and numerous shootings. In fact, just a few months before the incident in which Liz Marie was shot and killed, no less an authority than the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands had predicted that innocent bystanders would be caught up in these shootings. His predictions were quoted in U.S. Virgin Islands newspapers.

Nevertheless, cruise lines, including Carnival, continued to promote and sell excursions to Coki Beach/Coki Point. In fact, one of Carnival’s crew members recommended Coki Beach to the Chaparro family. The Chaparro family visited Coki Beach, although not on the Carnival-promoted and sold excursion, opting instead for a less expensive excursion to the area. When the excursion bus was leaving the area, Liz Marie was shot and killed, and died in her father’s arms, when gunfire broke out at the funeral of a gang member who had been killed only days before in a shoot-out.

Although the duty to warn is well established in state court, and has been accepted by most of the federal district court judges in the Southern District of Florida where the vast majority of cruise line cases are filed, the duty to warn passengers of dangers ashore had never previously been squarely addressed by the Eleventh Circuit.

Carnival argued that the Third District Court of Appeal’s Carlisle decision represented an unwarranted expansion of maritime law beyond the boundaries of the cruise vessel itself. The Eleventh Circuit specifically rejected that argument, finding “the rule in Carlisle consonant with the federal maritime standard of ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances.”

You can read our summary of the case here.

We retained appellate specialist Phil Parrish to handle the winning appeal which affirmed the legal duty to warn of dangers ashore, even on excursions not promoted or sold by the cruise lines.

Carnival Misleadingly Claims that Pirate’s Cove in an Independent Excursion

While claiming that Pirate’s Cove is supposedly an “independent” tour, Carnival has simultaneously tried to erase all evidence that it promoted Pirate’s Cove to guests on its cruise ships and would charge a fee (from $56.99 to $109.99) for the excursion.

Carnival Cruise Line scrubbed the above promotional information from its website after two of its cruise guests from the Carnival Elation reported that they were sexually assaulted at the Pirate’s Cove resort.

Before it recently scrubbed the information from its website, Carnival encouraged its guests to buy an excursion to Pirate’s Cove and “enjoy true Bahamian relaxation at Pirate’s Cove catering to Carnival guests, located just west of the historic Taino Beach.”  In its now deleted information, Carnival promoted this particular resort which it characterized as a “picturesque” beach with “experienced, hospitable and cordial staff (who) will ensure you have a memorial visit.” The resort sells food and offers entertainment while conducting zipline and water park/jet ski activities primarily for cruise guests. A quick search of the internet shows many YouTube pages, Cruise Critic reviews and other sites discussing the Carnival-Pirate’s Cove connection.

Yes, its a sad fact that when two of its guests from one of its cruise ships were reportedly drugged and raped during a shore excursion, a billion-dollar corporation like Carnival would amateurishly try to cover-up the truth that it promoted tours to this resort.

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Image credit: Carnival’s now deleted website page promoting Pirate’s Cove; CBS News – crime advisory for the Bahamas and interview with Dongayla Dobson and Amber Shearer; Carnival funship funnel – Carnival Twitter; Photos from the Carnival Elation – Dongayla Dobson Facebook via Daily Mail;  Carnival Elation – Jersyko, CC BY-SA 3.0 commons / wikimedia.