What if I’m Injured as a Cruise Ship Crew Member?

When you’re a crew member, you have a lot of responsibilities. From ensuring guest and passenger safety and satisfaction to making sure you fulfill your other job duties, there’s a lot on your plate. One thing you should never have to worry about is whether or not your employer has your best interests and safety in mind. Additionally, if you’re ever injured while in the course of your job duties, you want to know that you have access to the best treatment needed without worrying about your job being at stake.

We dedicate approximately 50% of our practice to helping passengers and crew members hold the cruise lines responsible for their negligence. We understand that crew members are exposed to dangerous work conditions, long hours, demanding supervisors, and inadequate medical care.  If you’ve been injured during the scope of your employment as a crew member, you are entitled to maintenance and cure.  You may also have a case against the cruise line for negligence, failure to provide prompt, proper, and adequate medical care, and unseaworthiness. Contact our office today at 305-638-4143 for a consultation. We’re happy to discuss your case and review your legal options with you.

Common Crew Injuries

With the average cruise ship setting sail with approximately 2,700 passengers aboard, it takes a lot of crew members to ensure a successful and safe trip. From the captain’s team to the food and beverage staff, each crew member faces unique tasks and challenges, leading to a wide variety of potential injuries. Some of the most commonly reported crew injuries are similar to those that passengers may experience, including:

  • Minor to major injuries, including death. Burns, sprains, strains, and broken limbs are just a few of the more commonly reported injuries. Any crew member can be susceptible to minor or major injuries due to improper safety practices and/or faulty ship equipment. Subsequent wage loss claims may also be made if the crew member can substantiate negligence on behalf of the cruise line or a co-worker.
  • Injuries and complications from inadequate medical care.  Unfortunately, we have had many clients that have had minor injuries or health issues become career-ending events as a result of the cruise line providing inadequate medical care.  To save money, the cruise lines often refer crew members shoreside to unskilled and unqualified doctors.  When these doctors provide bad medical care to crew members, minor injuries can become much, much worse.  Below are a few examples of medical malpractice cases that we are handling or have handled for crew members:
    • Failure to provide back surgery aggravates crew member’s condition
    • Failure to diagnose and treat kidney disease for three years resulting in kidney failure, kidney transplant, and stroke.
    • Shoreside surgeon performed wrong type of spine surgery resulting in recurrence of herniated disc.
    • Shoreside surgeon performed inappropriate knee surgery for torn meniscus (a common knee injury) which resulted in crew member’s injured leg being accidentally lengthened by two centimeters during surgery.
    • Failure to manage cardiac event for several days resulting in permanent disability and need for lifetime maintenance and cure.
    • Failure to diagnose and treat kidney disease resulting in death.
    • Failure to perform correct back surgery resulting in continued pain and disability after surgery.
    • Use of improper surgical hardware resulting in permanent disability.
  • Slip and fall injuries. These types of injuries can run the gamut from minor to very severe, including everything from simple strains and sprains to serious head injuries. These injuries are very common, and everyone from janitorial to spa crew members are vulnerable to unsafe decks, stairs, and floors.
  • Injury from fights, harassment, and assaults. When crew members are together for days or weeks on end, it’s not uncommon for there to be some type of discord. These types of injuries are fairly common amongst cruise ship employees and encompass injuries related to sexual assault and harassment.
    Wrongful termination. While this is not a physical injury, it may be considered a type of personal injury if an employee feels he or she has been relieved of his or her job duties without just cause.
  • Repetitive lifting injuries.  Many crew members suffer injury after working for many years as waiters or porters.  These injuries are so common that the cruise lines have coined the term “cumulative trauma disorder” (“CTD”) to refer to these kinds of injuries.  Oftentimes, after years of lifting heavy food service trays crew members suffer injuries to the weight-bearing joints, ie. knees, ankles, shoulders, and back.  These injuries manifest as arthritis or degenerative conditions.

If you’ve suffered any of the above injuries while working as a crew member, you deserve a well-versed, compassionate maritime lawyer to fight for you. Contact Michael T. Flanagan’s office today.

Recommended Actions

Immediately following the injury, many cruise employees begin to think about what actions are most advantageous when completed early on. In order to protect yourself and adequately document the nature of the event, the following steps can prove to be very helpful:

  • Locate any possible witnesses. Were there other crew members present when the accident happened? What about passengers? While independent or unbiased witnesses are preferred, any witness can be better than none, and gathering contact information can be beneficial down the road.
  • Take notes on the date, time, and circumstances under which the injury or incident occurred. If possible, date and time stamped photographs make for very compelling evidence if your case eventually proceeds to trial or arbitration.
  • Be sure to request and provide a written report if one is not offered to you. It may also be wise to make a copy of this statement for your own records. Any other paperwork can wait until you investigate your legal options.
  • Do not try to work while injured.  Due to pressure from supervisors and ship doctors, many crew members are encouraged to go back to work when they are injured.  Usually the ship doctor will give an injured crew member a pain injection and tell them they are fit-for-duty – even though returning to work while cause the injury to get worse.  Stand up for yourself and for your rights.  If you feel that you cannot work due to your injury, tell the doctor.
  • Report the injury and/or incident to your immediate supervisor. Do not wait to report the incident.  Report the incident as soon as it happens and go to the ship doctor.  Waiting to report the incident and waiting to see the ship doctor can make your injury worse.
  • If you have already been referred shoreside, request a second opinion with a U.S. based doctor.  To save money, cruise lines refer their employees to low quality doctors in foreign countries that will treat crew members for very little money.  These types of doctors often make injuries worse for crew members.  When your life and your career are on the line, you want to be treated by a qualified, respected, and experienced U.S. based physician.
  •  Consider contacting a qualified maritime lawyer to ensure your rights are upheld and protected.

Legal Protection

Many crew members mistakenly believe that they are only entitled to maintenance and cure. In truth, if you’ve suffered injury while working at sea on a cruise ship, any subsequent legal proceedings will be handled in accordance with the Jones Act. Often referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, this federal legislation was put into place to help protect seamen injured in the course and scope of their employment. This body of laws and regulations can be very complex and an injured employee must meet the definition of seaman as defined under the Act.  The Jones Act was intended to protect seaman, and is a very favorable law.  Many cruise lines are requiring crew to sign arbitration agreements waiving their rights under the Jones Act and illegally requiring application of foreign laws to employees of U.S. based cruise lines.  Before deciding to hire a lawyer, make sure the lawyer is intimately familiar with dealing with the issue of the applicable law in your case.  This issue will be litigated and hotly contested by the cruise line.

Miami Maritime Lawyer

When it comes to protecting your rights as an employee, no one takes this more seriously than Michael T. Flanagan, Esq. As a maritime lawyer who is well-versed in admiralty law, he has the knowledge and experience necessary to aggressively pursue cruise line employers who are negligent for their workers’ injuries. Contact our office today at (305) 638-4143 to schedule your free case evaluation.