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Are cruise ships doing enough to protect passengers from falling overboard?

Carnival-Cruise-Accident-LawyerAre cruise lines like Carnival doing enough to prevent overboard accidents? Millions of people enjoy taking cruises each year. According to Statista, an estimated 13.89 million people from North America took cruises in 2018, and another 6.23 million Europeans also did so.[1] While the popularity of cruises is undeniable, people still need to take steps to ensure that they remain safe. Cruises are considered to be generally safe, but there are some problems that can happen that may result from the negligence of the cruise liner companies. One of these issues that has recently been in the news is the problem of people falling off of cruise ships.

Prevalence of overboard incidents on cruise ships

Time Magazine reports that a spate of five presumed deaths from falling off of cruises occurred during the months of November and December in 2018.[2] The five victims included both crewmembers and passengers. The list of incidents is as follows:

  • Arron Hough, a 20-year-old U.K. citizen and crewmember, is presumed to have fallen from a cruise on Dec. 25;
  • Luke Renner, a 22-year-old passenger with autism from Maryland, is presumed to have fallen from a cruise on Dec. 16;
  • Thomas McElhaney, a 26-year-old passenger from Maryland, fell from a cruise on Dec. 14;
  • A 69-year-old Dutch woman is presumed to have fallen from a cruise on Dec. 8; and
  • A 27-year-old U.K. crewmember fell from a cruise on Nov. 22.

While five presumed deaths in slightly over one month may seem substantial, it is even more so when you consider that an average of 21 people each year have fallen from cruises since 2010. Of the people who have fallen from cruises, less than 20 percent have been rescued alive. Many are killed upon impact with the water. Even when people survive the fall, most are never found because hours may go by before they are discovered to be missing. While some of these incidents may be partially caused by the victims’ own behavior, the cruise liners themselves might also hold responsibility.

Problems with falling accidents on cruise ships

Cruise Lines International Association, which is a trade organization of cruise companies, told Time in a letter that cruise companies do everything possible to protect people from falling from the ships. The organization says that cruise companies can do little when passengers or crew members engage in reckless or intentional behavior, which the cruise organization claims is the cause of people falling from the ships.

Despite the assertions by the Cruise Lines International Association, there are several problems that can occur onboard cruise ships that can contribute to people falling from the ships. Cruise ships provide passengers with easy access to alcohol and do not cut people off when they have had too much to drink. People who are overserved at bars on the cruise ships may subsequently fall from the ships if they go out onto the decks or their balconies.

Man overboard detection systems have been available to cruise lines since 2010. However, few cruise ships have installed them. The cruise line companies have consistently downplayed the reliability of these systems. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines told Quartz Magazine that it has not installed the MOB systems on its cruise ships because they are unreliable and give “too many” false alarms.[3] However, cruise lines that have installed the systems and the manufacturers of the systems have reported that MOB detection systems are up to 97 percent effective.

Cruise line companies likely resist installing the MOB detection systems because they want to save as much money as possible. However, the value of human life should outweigh monetary considerations. These systems use radar and sensors to send alerts when someone falls from the ship. While many people die when they strike the water, alerts might allow people who survive the falls to be rescued instead of drowning.

Liability issues in cruise line falling accidents

There are multiple complex liability issues when people fall from ships. Understanding the parties that might be liable will depend on multiple factors. The particular laws that might apply will also depend on the ship’s location when the fall occurs. For example, if people fall off cruise ships along the coast of California, the state’s laws will apply if the ship was within three nautical miles of the coastline as we have previously noted.[4]

When cruise overboard accidents occur when cruise ships are more than three nautical miles from the coast, maritime laws apply. Fatal fall-from-ship cruise accidents that happen in international waters, which are defined as being 12 or more nautical miles from the coastline, fall under the Death on the High Seas Act.[5] Determining which laws apply is important because the laws may impact the choice of where to file lawsuits. For example, cases involving state law might be filed in state court while those involving maritime laws should be filed in federal court.

The different laws may also have different evidentiary requirements and provide different types of compensation and remedies. Because of the complex legal issues that can be involved in a fall from a cruise ship, people might need to seek legal help from an experienced cruise ship injury and accident attorney.

Contact a lawyer at the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat

Taking a cruise can be an enjoyable and memorable experience. Cruise vacations are generally quite safe. However, it is important for you to remain aware of your surroundings while you are on a cruise so that you can remain safe. If you have lost a loved one who is presumed to have fallen from a cruise ship, the legal issues involved can be highly complex. Getting help from an experienced accident attorney is crucial when you are dealing with an incident that occurred on a cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines or with another company. A lawyer can review what occurred and provide you with an honest assessment of your potential claim and its liability issues. Knowledgeable legal counsel who practices in both state and federal court might understand the various state and federal laws that apply and help you to determine the proper venue where your claim should be filed. To learn more about your potential claim, call the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat today and schedule a free consultation.







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