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The Trouble with Cruise Ships and Ferries

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on July 21, 2019

Our ferries are a pleasant part of Seattle living. Many locals use the ferry system daily to commute to work in the city, from Bainbridge Island and beyond. Washington State has the largest ferry fleet in the country and the third largest in the world, and we’re proud of it.

Seattle is also a rapidly growing tourist destination, and visitors love using our ferries to travel to various attractions: historic landmarks and architecture, museums, and wooded walking trails. Some ferry trips are as short as 30 minutes, while other take passengers as far as Victoria, BC.

A busy area for departing cruises, the Port of Seattle also operates the largest and fastest-growing cruise terminal on the West Coast. As a home port to seven different cruise lines, more than 200 vessels travel through Seattle during the May-to-October season, hosting more than a million passengers each year since 2017. Unfortunately, it also means we see more injuries out on the water.

Who Is Liable for Cruise-Related Injuries?

When a passenger slips and falls on deck or stairs, or suffers an injury as a result of faulty equipment or improper maintenance, what happens to them? That depends on where the vessel was at the time of the incident. The victim may be able to file a claim against the boat’s owner or operator for medical costs and other types of damages, but these cases are more complicated. Injuries that occur out at sea or in any navigable waters will fall under a special branch of federal law – maritime law. These laws apply during a cruise, while boarding or disembarking, and during tourist excursions to shore.

Determining liability is often a complex legal matter to untangle. For example:

  • A cruise ship may be docked in the United States or be in U.S. waters when the injury occurs, yet be registered in a foreign country.
  • The ship may be registered in the United States but be in international waters when the incident occurs.
  • The ship may be registered in the United States but be in another country’s waters.

Shore excursions, whether for shopping, snorkeling, or another activity, bring in revenues for cruise lines. Most excursions are operated by a local company and offered as a service by the cruise line. When injured on an excursion, passengers usually file a claim against the cruise line, rather than the excursion company. The cruise line may claim the excursion company is liable and that they had no control over the situation, which may not be true. Some of the issues that need to be addressed in these cases include:

  • The country in which the injury occurred might not have laws governing safety issues. For example, the United States requires certification before someone can go deep-sea diving, when some other countries might require nothing more than an equipment rental fee.
  • A small excursion company might not have the funds to pay an injured victim. Thus, even a successfully filed suit might result in no actual payout from an excursion company, while the cruise line does have insurance policies to cover guests in certain situations.

What to Do After a Cruise or Ferry Injury in the Seattle Area

The two most important steps are: first, get medical treatment, and second, report the injury to the cruise line or ferry operator. The exact circumstances of the incident and your medical condition should be fully documented by a qualified physician as soon as possible.

Those who work on seagoing vessels do not have access to workers’ compensation benefits, but they are covered by the Jones Act, a federal law that allows injured maritime workers to file suit against their employer in federal court. In Washington state, ferry employees are required to bring Jones Act claims to state court, where a Superior Court judge will apply federal maritime law to the case. Under the Jones Act, injured crew members have a right to what is called “maintenance and cure,” or payment to cover lost wages and medical treatment. If you were injured as a crew member on a cruise ship or ferry, it is imperative that your case is handled by a law firm with experience filing claims under maritime law.

Contact Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., Today.

As soon after the injury as possible, contact Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. Our Seattle cruise ship lawyers offer a free, no-obligation consultation. There are no up-front costs or out-of-pocket expenses if we take on your case. We only get paid when your case is resolved in your favor, whether in or out of court. Call us today at toll-free (888) 228-3860.

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