Injuries and accidents can happen on cruise ships just as easily as they can while on land. However, the law that governs ship injuries differs from other injuries, and these laws can be based on the type of carrier that was carrying the passenger and the type of injury.

What Is a Common Carrier?

A common carrier is a person or company that transports passengers or goods on a regular rate at a set rate. Common carriers include cruise ships, as well as airplanes, buses, trains and ferries. All common carriers are expected to use the highest degree of care when transporting their cargo, whether that cargo be people or goods. 

Establishing Fault in Common Carrier Accidents

One issue arises when it comes to injuries on common carriers serving U.S. customers when the carrier is not registered in the United States. Many times, these carriers are registered in Panama or the Bahamas, where safety and labor regulations are more relaxed. In these situations, maritime law governs. Under maritime law, the carrier is liable for an accident only if it can be shown that the operator of the ship knew or should have known about an unsafe condition.

In the 2006 case of Lynn Baker v. Carnival Corp., the court stated that “There must be some failure to exercise due care before liability may be imposed…The question becomes whether the defendant created an unsafe or foreseeably hazardous condition.”

Viewing the Ticket as a Legal Contract

Determining the level of liability that is placed on the ship operator can be as easy as looking at the back of the cruise ship ticket. When a passenger purchases a ticket and boards the ship, the passenger is legally consenting to the terms printed on the back of that ticket. Most passengers do not even think to look at the back of the ticket. However, a limited liability waiver is likely printed on the back of that ticket, as well as a forum-selection clause and clause regarding notice-requirements. All of these provisions can affect what the passenger has the right to do if injured while on the ship. 

What is a Forum-Selection Clause?

A forum-selection clause is also known as a venue clause, and indicates where the lawsuit may be filed. These lawsuits are normally filed in Florida where most major cruise liners are headquartered, regardless of whether the ship is registered in another country. 

What Is a Notice-Requirement Clause?

A notice-requirement clause details what the passenger must do to file a claim for damages. It provides the time-period required for any filed claims. Usually, maritime law gives a three-year statute of limitations for any personal injury claims. However, the notice-requirement clause can potentially shorten this time period to 12 months for physical injuries or a shorter period of time for those injuries that are not-physical. 

Determining Negligence

Carnival Cruise Line made headlines last week when it was reported that two passengers suffered fatal falls aboard the ship. Cruise ship operators are not held to a strict liability standard for passenger injuries but rather a standard of negligence. Negligence is based on what a reasonably prudent ship operator would have done or would have known about the hazard that caused the injury. While it is not expected that a ship operator would know of every single possibility for harm on their ship, the operator is expected to regularly inspect for hazards.

Many times, negligence can be as easy as showing that the ship operator was not complying with regulatory requirements when it comes to safety.  Every ship must be inspected under the laws of the country where the ship is registered. However, for a cruise ship to be docked at a U.S. port, the ship must meet standards under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).  If the injury was caused by someone employed by the ship operator, the negligence standard will still follow meaning a “reasonably careful ship operator” would have anticipated the employee’s actions that led to the injury.

Further, under the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. §1702(6), common carriers owe their passengers a heightened duty of care to protect them from physical harm and ensuring that the passengers arrive at their destinations safely. This special duty also includes protections from actions of the crew members if the passenger is assaulted or raped by an employee of the ship.

Jurisdiction for a Lawsuit

Most of the major cruise lines register their vessels under foreign countries, which mean that the law of that country of registration may apply for accidents that occur on the ship. However, given the fact that many of these vessels depart from a U.S. port, the law of the state where the ship departed, as well as United States law and other international treaties can apply. The Florida Statute 910.006 also gives law enforcement of Florida special jurisdiction when a criminal offense is committed on the ship and the injured passenger is a resident of the State of Florida or the suspect resides in Florida.


Most cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, MSC, Disney, Holland America, Princess, Costa, Regents Seven Seas and Oceania require that claims against them be pursued in a very specific place under very strict deadlines.   Failure to comply with each individual cruise lines deadlines can result in a complete loss of any and all legal rights.

Our maritime personal injury lawyers have over 30 years of combined legal experience holding cruise lines accountable if and when their carelessness causes an accident or injury either aboard their ship, on a tender boat, gangway or an excursion.  Call us today and speak with a cruise ship claims lawyer about your potential claim- toll free 1-866-597-4529, 305-441-0440, or by email.

We are available 24/7 and encourage you to contact us even if you are still on your cruise.  The sooner we can begin our investigation and preservation of key evidence such as the CCTV footage of your trip and fall, slip and fall, assault or other type of injury the more likely we will be able to understand and prove how the incident occurred.  Call our cruise ship injury lawyers today, we are ready to help.