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Do Cruise Ships Have a Passenger's Bill of Rights?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

The phrase "passenger bill of rights" often gets thrown around when air travelers are stuck on the tarmac for hours. But cruise ship passengers can get stuck on the open ocean, as a recent Carnival Cruise Lines mishap shows, Reuters reports. Don't cruise passengers have rights too?

The short answer is yes, but just what are those rights? That can get complicated.

At the very least, a cruise ship has a duty to provide reasonable care to its passengers. You probably also have additional protections, if you know where to look.

Duty to Care for Cruise Ship Passengers

But first, your basic rights. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court gave us the so-called Kermarec rule, which creates a duty on the part of cruise ships. They must provide reasonable care to passengers.

The specifics of that aren't entirely clear, but many cruise lines err on the side of more care to avoid liability. So while airline passengers are supposed to get food and water if they're stuck on a plane in certain situations, the Kermarec rule potentially ensures cruise passengers that they'll be taken care of in the event they're stuck at sea.

The rule also provides a potential way to sue for any cruise-related injuries. In a suit for negligence, for example, the first thing you'd need to prove is that the defendant (the cruise liner and its staff) owed you a duty. The Kermarac rule can take care of that first part, which would lower your burden significantly.

From there a plaintiff would have to show that the defendant failed to fulfill that duty and that the failure, in turn, caused the plaintiff's injuries. But as a passenger you may have other recourse than a negligence lawsuit.

Other Places to Look for Your 'Rights'

The best place to look is on your cruise ship ticket, or the terms you agreed to when you purchased your ticket. This should list what you, as a passenger, are entitled to in terms of the length of the cruise and its destinations, among other things.

If the cruise company fails to fulfill the terms mentioned on the ticket, you could sue for breach of contract. That means a cruise that is cancelled or cut short could result in a refund.

But you also want to pay close attention to that ticket for another reason: It generally includes the requirements for bringing a lawsuit.

Many cruise lines try to limit their liability by requiring passengers to take certain steps before filing a lawsuit. That may include providing written notice of the injury within a certain period of time after it occurs, bringing a claim within a certain period of time, and suing in a specific court in a specific state.

If you choose to sue a cruise line over your injuries, you'd better believe they'll have a high-powered attorney in the courtroom. So to even the odds, it may be wise to get your own personal injury lawyer to help steer your case toward resolution.

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