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We at FairShake often hear about issues that leave cruise customers stressed out during the reservation process, or the cruise itself, such as misleading sales offers, unkept promises, and even onboard injuries.
The most frustrating and severe of these leave individuals looking for information on how to sue Royal Caribbean, for instance, or the steps for bringing a Carnival Cruise Lines lawsuit or a Norwegian Cruise Lines complaint.
While we all hope we never need it, here are some things to know about the laws around booking and traveling on a cruise for US passengers.
Ultimately if you’re experiencing an issue with a cruise line and considering a cruise line lawsuit, you may want to consult an attorney.
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Cruise ships are responsible for taking reasonable precautions to protect passengers while on board. So when injuries occur, you may be entitled to seek compensation by suing a cruise line.
Specific laws that apply to cruises include:
This law lays out security and safety requirements for most cruise ships that embark and disembark in the United States, incorporating everything from the requirement to have a medical professional on board trained in sexual assault response, to the required height of a ship’s guardrails, to a requirement for video surveillance, a limitation on the circumstances under which crew can enter passenger cabins, and a requirement that criminal incidents on board be reported to the FBI.
This law says that if an individual dies on a ship more than 3 nautical miles from the shore of the United States and the death is due to a wrongful act or negligence, a survivor may file a cruise ship suit in an admiralty court against the person or vessel responsible to seek fair compensation.
The Federal Maritime Commission is a federal regulator that handles cruise ship complaints. (Although, importantly, they won’t help you get compensation for your complaint).
In the words of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT):
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) requires operators of passenger vessels carrying 50 or more passengers from a U.S. port to be financially capable of reimbursing their customers if a cruise is canceled. Proof of the ability to pay claims arising out of passenger injuries or death for which the ship operator may be liable is required. If a cruise is canceled or if there is an injury during the cruise, the consumer is responsible for initiating action on their own behalf against the cruise line.
According to the USDOT, passengers should submit any problems or inquiries to the FMC for review, including by phone at 202-523-580, though the cruise line and customer(s) involved are ultimately responsible for resolving the dispute (see more below).
Like most services you buy, when you book a cruise you agree to a long list of fine print. This has implications for what laws apply to your cruise ticket, and how you pursue compensation if you’re wronged, including by suing a cruise line.
Among some of the larger cruise lines, Princess calls this the “Passage Contract,” while for Norwegian it’s the “Guest Ticket Contract”, and for Royal Caribbean and Carnival it’s just the “Ticket Contract.”
Here’s some of what you can find in your cruise contract:
While the federal laws above apply generally to cruises with US stops, some of the laws applying to your cruise ticket will differ depending on which state’s laws apply.
Specifically, some cruise sales tactics can violate the sorts of laws that apply to everything you buy as a consumer—think things like lying about a vacation package’s total price, or leading you to believe you’ll receive something that you won’t (yes, these seem like they happen all the time, but they can still be illegal).
One class of laws protecting you as a consumer, including when you book a cruise, are called UDAP laws, which stands for Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices.
Which state’s laws (including UDAP laws) apply to a cruise booking will be outlined in the ticket contract. This is also the state where you can take legal action against a cruise line. The contracts of most large cruise lines name Florida for this—including Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Regent Seven Seas, and Royal Caribbean. One outlier is Princess Cruise Lines, whose contract names California as the state in which to bring legal actions against them.
If you booked a cruise vacation package through a separate platform like Expedia or Priceline, and your issue is with that platform, then that company’s contract could apply (including which state’s laws apply).
Another aspect of a cruise contract that governs your rights, is whether it includes a requirement to bring disputes against the cruise line through consumer arbitration. Arbitration is a form of private justice system that is used by hundred of consumer contracts to avoid most public courts (and eliminate class action lawsuits). Typically an arbitration clause prevents you from proceeding in state and federal courts, while small claims courts are still allowed.
Learn more about arbitration here.
If you’ve reviewed a cruise contract yourself and you see an arbitration clause, an important next step is to identify which arbitration provider the contract requires you to go through. As of the time of writing, most large cruise lines identify National Arbitration and Mediation (NAM) as their required arbitration venue.
Once you’ve identified the arbitration provider, they’ll have their own rules telling you what to do next if you want to sue a cruise line through arbitration.
One more thing to look out for in your cruise contract is any restrictions placed on how much time you have in which you’re allowed to initiate a cruise lawsuit. Federal law permits cruise lines to shorten the statute of limitations within which passengers are allowed to file cruise ship lawsuits for personal injury to 1 year from the date of the incident.
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