The cruise ship Celebrity Mercury was forced to its home port of Charleston for a four day cleaning recently. After the third straight outbreak of Norovirus on the 1870 passenger ship, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a rare “no sail” recommendation. The return home came after Celebrity took some action to stem the outbreak to no avail.
As noted in an article in USA Today,
The repeated outbreaks came despite an aggressive effort by the line to stop the chain of transmission of the illness. Celebrity conducted an unusual top-to-bottom cleaning of the Mercury Feb. 26-27 that delayed the ship’s Feb. 26 departure by a day. The line also delayed the March 8 departure of the ship by several hours so it could undergo another round of extra cleaning and disinfecting
Norovirus is a stomach illness characterized by diarrhea and vomiting. 406 of the 1829 passengers on the last voyage of the Mercury, or nearly 22%, got sick. This is after 411 passengers on the February 15-26 sailing and 182 on the February 26-March 8 sailing. Outbreaks of this magnitude are extremely rare and its even rarer to have three outbreaks in a row.
Like Charleston, New Orleans is a major port for cruise ships. Many residents of this state leave from there. What happens if your much-needed vacation turns into a sickness disaster as it did for many Celebrity passengers? Are there legal ramifications?
Someone who is taken ill while on a cruise may very well have a negligence claim against the cruise line. In order to prove negligence the passenger must be able to prove that the cruise line owed a duty to him or her, the duty was breached, and the breach resulted in injury (sickness). If these elements are proven the cruise line will be responsible for paying medical expenses, lost wages, and may even be forced to pay compensation for pain and suffering.
Claims against cruise lines are unique, however, and may differ very much from a traditional negligence claim. There are several things to keep in mind if you are considering suing a cruise line.
First, did the cruise line violate a duty to you? Was there negligent action?
Cruise lines have a duty to provide a clean, safe place for people to vacation. As an example, if the ship was not clean enough to prevent the spread of illness, a duty was probably violated. Or, if you became sick because food was not refrigerated to the correct temperatures or was left out for too long, a duty was most likely violated.
Second, can you prove the negligent action?
Cruise ships are constantly traveling and they host passengers from all over the world. This may make it very difficult to track down information regarding the conditions on the ship that may have led to your injury or illness. If you are injured or become sick while on a cruise make sure you get the names and contact information of other passengers who can verify the conditions of the ship. If possible, take pictures of the hazardous or unsafe conditions.
Third, what are the terms of your passenger ticket?
As a cruise line passenger, your ticket is a contract between you and the cruise line. Tickets often provide legal guidelines for bringing claims against the cruise line such as a requirement to inform the cruise line of an intent to bring a claim or collect damages, a limitations period for bringing a claim, or a forum selection clause requiring that claims be brought in a certain court. While you may be able to overcome some terms in court, you will be better off if you know precisely what the passenger ticket says.
The prospect of taking on a cruise line may seem overwhelming. However, If you have a valid claim and a dedicated experienced attorney on your side, a successful claim may be within reach.