Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Cruise Ship Passengers Should Know After An Accident

  Todays' news reported a tragic accident in Southeast Alaska.   National Geographic tour passengers from the cruise ship, Seabird, were on a Pacific Wings DeHavilland Beaver that crashed into a mountainside.  The causes of the crash remain unknown but one man, a respected engineer from Los Alamos died and other passengers were seriously injured.  Because of the steepness of the mountainside, basically a cliff, the survivors were evacuated by use of a helicopter winch.

  Cruise passengers who become accident victims while on an excursion need to pay special attention.  Their claims can be treated differently from the claims of other accident victims to the detriment of the Cruise Passenger Accident Victims.

  The most important document affecting Cruise Passenger Accident Victims rights is the Ticket Contract.  The "ticket"is more than a stub, more than a boarding pass, and is long enough that you know it has been written by the cruise's lawyers.  Hard copies of the Ticket Contract may be provided passengers but, increasingly, the Ticket Contract is only provided online or electronically.  In the end, the Ticket Contract is written by the Cruise Company for the protection of Cruise Company if the Cruise Passenger has a dispute.

   The Ticket Contract commonly attempts to change Cruise Passenger Accident Victim rights in 3 ways.  One way is a Contractual Statute of Limitation.  The language of the Ticket Contract will require the Cruise Passenger Accident Victim to present a claim in a period shorter than Alaska's 2 year statute of limitation and I have seen periods as short as 6 months when the Cruise Passenger Accident Victim is focused on medical treatment and controlling his losses and before he is able to focus on compensation for those losses.  Interestingly, on one occasion, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that this type of conduct is unenforceable. But there is no downside to the Cruise Company raising the defense and zealous advocacy will trump more humanitarian principles.  Because its better to avoid this defense if possible, the recommendation  for Cruise Passenger Accident Victims is to locate the Ticket Contract and know their rights.

   The second attempted change of the Ticket Contract is to require that any lawsuit be filed in a specific venue, forum, state or city.  For example Carribean cruise companies frequently require suit be filed in Miami and the passengers of the Italian cruise ship, Costa Concordia that ran aground with loss of life were required to file in a place in Italy.  Again, the recommendation for Cruise Passenger Accident Victims is to locate the Ticket Contract and know its requirements so that they can determine whether this provision is enforceable.

   The most disappointing provision in the Ticket Contract is often an attempt to deny legal responsibility for passenger excursions.  When one purchases a cruise, a passenger buys more than transportation on a boat.  The passenger buys the services of a professional organization to provide guidance as to appropriate and safe travel activities and to steer the traveller away from unsafe activities.  Excursions sold in conjunction with the cruise contain an implicit endorsement by the Cruise Company.   The Cruise Company's legal responsibility for the actions of its excursion partners will depend on the specific facts of the excursion, the written agreements with the excursion provider, and other facts.

    If you have the misfortune of being an accident victim, you have to play your hand smartly. See WWW.JUNELAWYER.COM.