Suing a cruise line for Injuries Due To Rough Seas

People injured on a cruise ship from slipping, tripping, or falling should consider whether the ship’s movement played a role in the incident.  Often large cruise ships on strict itineraries plow through high winds and rough seas to deliver passengers to ports on time, so they can use their prepaid excursions and shop.  Cruise lines also don’t like to have to explain or compensate disgruntled passengers when they have to eliminate a port or two from the planned itinerary because of weather. As a result, passenger may encounter rough seas, which can at times become violent and cause injuries like broken bones, head and spinal injuries, and even brain damage.  

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Successfully suing a cruise line for an accident that occurs in rough seas caused by high winds is not as easy as many think. Often the case will even be dismissed. Consider the case of a woman who claimed she was injured while dancing aboard NCL’s Norwegian Gem:  Ms. Valerie Miller’s case was not handled by our firm, but the recently issued appellate decision is very instructive as to what must be shown to hold a cruise line liable for an accident caused by rough seas. Her lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line was dismissed on summary judgement. Here’s how and why:

Ms. Miller’s claim, like the typical passenger accident lawsuit against a cruise line, is subject to federal maritime law.  And although she lives in New York, and NCL claims to be a Bahamian corporation, the lawsuit had to be filed in Miami’s Federal Courthouse. Not coincidentally NCL also maintains its world headquarters in Miami.

According to the court records, Ms. Miller’s accident occurred in the Spinnaker Lounge, where she and her partner had gone to celebrate her 77th birthday. Ms. Miller testified that she was an experienced cruise ship passenger and had been on many cruises before. She also stated that as an experienced passenger, she knew that cruise ships can and do encounter bad weather that can cause movement in the ship.  In fact, earlier that evening, she had encountered rough seas and had to hold on to something to steady herself.

She testified in her deposition–which is a sworn interview–that while dancing, she experienced some movement of the ship but that it was not so severe that she wanted to stop dancing. However, after about 15-20 minutes of dancing the Foxtrot, she suddenly felt the ship move violently, and she and her partner were thrown to the ground, allegedly causing her a serious injury. According to NCL’s Logbook on February 19, 2015, wind speeds ranged from 24.0 knots to 47.0 knots throughout the course of the day. At the time of her fall (10:41 P.M.), the wind speed was measured at 33.0 knots.

To prove a cruise line is responsible, the plaintiff must show that the ship was on notice of a dangerous condition, one that was unreasonable under the circumstances, and that the crew failed to warn the passenger of that condition.  Examples of such a dangerous condition include a spill on the floor, a loose carpet on a poorly lit and steep staircase, or a broken bar stool that collapses from improper maintenance.   

The exception to this rule occurs when the condition is one that can be shown to be “open and obvious.” Ms. Miller’s lawyers argued that since NCL had issued a warning to its passengers to “be aware of the motion of the ship at all times and also watch for trip hazards,” and that another passenger had suffered an injury approximately three hours before her fall when that passenger fell out of a chair because of the boat’s rocking.  However, prior to Ms. Miller’s fall, no other injuries and/or falls were recorded in the Spinnaker Lounge.

The court first had to determine whether or not dancing at the Spinnaker Lounge while the ship was moving through rough seas or high winds was in fact a “dangerous condition” that required NCL to do anything at all.  The court found that since Ms. Miller had been on many previous cruises and had experienced the movement of the ship before she fell, the condition was “open and obvious” to her, and therefore NCL had no duty to warn her or do anything to prevent it.   

In addition, even though Ms. Miller tried to support her argument with a maritime expert, who opined that the conditions of the sea were such that the dance floor should have been closed, the court ignored this opinion, because it found it to be unreliable and because the methodology utilized by the expert in formulating his opinion was not based on anything more than his own opinion–and not published guidelines or manuals. Furthermore, the court found that the injury earlier in the day was not “substantially similar” as it occurred under other circumstances in another place on the ship.

Contacting an Experienced Cruise Ship Injury Lawyer

Because each case is unique, the facts and injuries require detailed investigation and analysis.  It is important to understand that not all accidents aboard cruise ships are viable legal cases. Therefore, an in-depth understanding of maritime and personal injury law is also required.  Ms. Miller was represented by excellent lawyers.  But even the best cruise ship accident attorneys cannot always get cases past the strict demands of federal maritime law and the federal judges who apply it.  

Our personal injury law firm in Miami, FL has been helping people who have been hurt while on cruise ships since 1991.  For 25 years we have successfully fought to hold cruise lines like NCL, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Princess, and MSC accountable when they put their profits ahead of passenger safety.

If you have suffered a slip and fall, trip and fall, sexual assault, or other injury while on a cruise, in port, or on a tender, call our office today for a free initial and confidential consultation with an experienced cruise injury attorney.  We are available 24/7 by email at, toll free at 1-866-597-4529, locally at 305-441-0440, or by SKYPE or FACETIME.  The sooner we are able to start our investigation, the more likely we will be able to help you recoup lost wages, medical expenses, and money for pain and suffering. Call us today–we are ready to help.