Getting a Recovery for Injuries from a Cruise Shipwreck

A shipwreck is the most serious incident at sea.

Passengers may be  injured in a variety of ways, such as

  • death by drowning or other trauma;
  • fractures sustained during collision or a sudden listing of the vessel; and
  • serious injuries during the evacuation.

Injured passengers and their attorneys should keep the following in mind:

  • The negligence of the ship owner;
  • The proper place to bring suit and the choice of law;
  • The strict time limits for filing a lawsuit.

I.  Negligence 

Despite the fact of a spectacular accident of  a ship sinking, an injured passenger still  must prove negligence by the cruise line.

In some instances governmental authorities will investigate and issue a considered report.  This report may support a finding of negligence. 

It will be easier to prove a shipwreck due to navigational error, such as sailing too close to land, rather than unforeseeable elements, such as a sudden storm at sea.  

In very dramatic cases of carelessness, the cruise line may concede negligence.  

II.  The Proper Place to Bring Suit and Questions of Law

A central issue is the proper place to bring a lawsuit.

As we have written previously, the cruise ticket determines the venue of the lawsuit.  Generally, cruise tickets state that the place to bring a lawsuit is the federal district court where the ship line has its office. 

Most cruise lines marketed in America have offices in Miami or its environs.  (E.g., Carnival, Holland-America, Cunard, NCL, etc.)  These cruise companies often sail from an American port, such as Miami or New York.  Therefore, the U.S. Court in Florida will have jurisdiction over the cruise line.

An interesting exception is the foreign cruise line which may not do business in the United States.  For example, there are cruise lines headquartered in Europe, which are not marketed widely in American, and  which do not do business in the United States.  Such cruise lines may work solely in the seas and waterways of Europe, Africa, or Asia. 

In those instances an American may not be able to bring suit in an United States court.  The injured passenger may be contractually bound to bring suit in the headquarters city of the foreign owner. 

A second question is whether American law or a foreign law determines the outcome of the case.  The ticket may indicate a choice of law.

A careful review of the cruise ticket will be the essential first step in determining the client’s rights.

III.  The Strict Time Limits for Filing a Lawsuit

We have written previously that there are short time deadlines to file suit.

The typical deadline is six months from the accident date for notice of claim.  The lawsuit deadline is one year from the date of the sinking.  

Again, the cruise ticket must be reviewed carefully.


The injured passenger’s rights will be controlled largely by the terms of the ticket.  It should be reviewed as soon as possible, especially in view of the short time limits for bringing a lawsuit.

Mark E. Seitelman, 1/16/12.


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