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Navigating Cruise Ship Accident Cases as an Attorney

Flanagan & Bodenheimer Injury and Wrongful Death Law Firm

If you’re a lawyer from out of state considering handling your client’s cruise ship accident case against one of the major Cruise Lines, think twice before doing it alone. If you’re planning on handling a cruise ship accident case, you should contact one of the few law firms who routinely sue the cruise lines. 

Cruise ship accident cases are usually governed by the general maritime law of the United States, federal statutes and treaties, the federal rules of civil procedure, and the federal rules of evidence.  There are some circumstances, however, when federal law can be supplemented with the law of a State, if it is not inconsistent with the maritime law. 

If you are considering handling a cruise ship accident case, then a good place to start your analysis is the ticket contract.

Cruise Line Ticket Contracts

First, you need to know what your client’s ticket contract says. Your client might not be aware that they agreed to a ticket contract, but every passenger (with few exceptions) who goes on a cruise ship agrees to the terms of the ticket contract which are published online on the cruise line’s website. Here are some of the ticket contracts for the most popular cruise lines:

Cruise Line Lawsuit Forum

The first thing you should look for in the ticket contract is the forum for where your client’s lawsuit must be filed. Usually, against many of the major Cruise Lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian, your client’s case will have to be filed in federal court in Miami, Florida, specifically the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. You must file that lawsuit in less than one year from the date of your client’s accident; otherwise, your case will be barred forever.

In some instances, where the injured person resided at the time that they purchased their ticket contract may affect whether the forum will be in Miami, Florida, or in a foreign country.  Be sure to consider this in deciding whether you want to accept the case.

Written Notice for Cruise Lines

The second thing you should look for in the ticket contract is when you have to put the cruise line on written notice of the claim.  Usually the ticket requires written notice be provided with “full particulars” within six months of the accident. There are some ways around this requirement if your client reported the incident on the cruise ship and filled out some forms that the cruise line gave to them at the ship’s medical facility. However, if your client didn’t inform the cruise line, and the cruise ship had no knowledge about the incident and didn’t investigate, you must get your notice out quickly and comply with the terms of the ticket contract. The ticket contract expressly states how the notice must be sent, when it must be sent, and where it must be sent.  Notice to the cruise line does not necessarily provide notice to third parties like product manufacturers or tour operators who can claim that failure to provide notice bars the claim.

Pleading Standard

After you get past the ticket contract and you’ve filed your case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, you need to know how it works here. There is a pleading standard that you have to comply with; you have to plead specific facts for what happened. If your client has a slip and fall, for example, you have to plead prior incidents in detail. You have to be prepared to identify who had a prior slip and fall, where the slip and fall was, when the slip and fall was, and basically, in your complaint, prove that this prior incident is substantially similar, or it may get disregarded.

Here are links to some of the most recent cases about pleading in cruise ship cases from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:

Time Constraints and Depositions

Generally, your discovery window will be very short.  You might receive a scheduling order providing you with as little as three months to complete all of your discovery – which is not a lot of time. This is especially true when you can expect a motion for summary judgment to be filed at the conclusion of the discovery period.  In some cases, you will need to take depositions all over the world during your brief discovery period.  In a medical malpractice case against a cruise line we took depositions in: South Africa, the Philippines, Canada, Puerto Rico, Atlanta, Miami, Minnesota, California, Tampa, and Virginia. If you’re going to take on one of these cases, you need to be ready to travel and commit your practice to handling this case. Because you will have very little time to complete your discovery, you cannot afford to put off taking deposition or sending discovery.  In fact, you need to know what discovery you need to prove your case before you start taking depositions.  That’s where experience handling these cases and knowledge about how the cruise lines operate their ships and business is a tremendous advantage.

Contact us to Discuss Your Cruise Ship Accident Case

The moral of the story is: don’t go it alone. Whether you have questions, need advice, or are looking to collaborate on a case, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are committed to helping you navigate these challenging waters successfully.

Contact us at 305-638-4143 or complete our online form to discuss your cruise ship accident case.

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