Even though a cruise is a carefree vacation, occasionally accidents occur.
Cruise ships are giant, floating hotels with the same accident sites as a regular hotel, such as staircases, elevators, slippery decks and floors, and other possible hazards. The typical cruise ship accident is no different than an accident in a regular hotel. Most accidents are slips and falls and trips and falls.
For example, a passenger slipped and fell on a restaurant’s slippery floor which had just been mopped. There were no warning or hazard cones. He commenced litigation, and eventually had his attorney’s engineer inspect the area. The floor when dry was unreasonably slippery when the engineer performed a coefficient of friction test. This is a widely accepted test of slipperiness. Furthermore, when water was added to the the floor, the engineer found that the floor was twice as slippery.
In this example, the passenger fell hard, but he did not feel that he needed medical assistance. He had prior falls from various athlethic acitivities in the past. He was hurt, but he picked himself up and was able to leave the restaurant on his own. Sometime later he “reported” the incident to a crew member who allegedly took down the details. In the litigation the cruise line denied that it received this report, and it claimed that it had no written report of the incident.
It is imperative to make an accident or incident report at the time of the incident. It is preferable to have a crew member take the report at the scene or at least inspect and identify the scene in your presence. Of course, in an accident where the passenger sustains a serious injury, such as a fractured ankle, and must be given medical assistance at the scene, the ship will prepare an accident report. However, where a fall or incident at first appears minor, nonetheless, it should be brought to the attention of the ship’s personnel, and an accident report should be filed.
It is vital that an accident or incident report be filed so that the cruise line cannot claim that the accident did not happen. In the prior example, the passenger was hurt, but he did not think that his injuries were so serious as to require medical assistance at the scene. He claims that he later reported the incident, however, the cruise line denies a report. In essence the ship claims that the attorney’s letter of representation was its first notice of the incident. In the event of an accident you should make sure that the ship personnel write a report in your presence, and if possible, you should ask for a copy. Minimally you should get the name and rank of the person to whom the report is given. Also, if possible, you should go with the crew member to the site to identify the exact location of the incident.
If possible, you should get the names and addresses of witnesses to the incident. This is not always possible since witnesses tend to scatter. Often, people on vacation do not want to get “involved.” Therefore, the incident report is very important, and it is helpful if the crew member collects the names and addresses of witnesses since witnesses will tend to be more cooperative to a crew member in uniform.
Furthermore, medical assistance should be sought on the ship unless the injury is trivial. All major ships have a physician, and the big ships also have a nurse and equipped medical office. You should not wait a week later to visit your own, regular doctor. As in a regular accident case, the closer in time that you seek medical assistance, the easier it will be able to prove causation between the incident and the injuries. Furthermore, a visit to the ship’s doctor will help corroborate that the incident occurred.
Once you get home you should consult an attorney immediately. The reason is that there are short time limits for prosecuting a claim and lawsuit which will be discussed in “Holding the Cruise Line Responsible for an Accident–Part II.”