I Got Injured or Sick on a Foreign Cruise. Can I Sue in the U.S.?

It isn't always an easy question to answer when it comes to cruises on non-U.S. waters, but here's what you need to know.

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If you get sick while on a cruise, and you're able to link the illness to some kind of negligence on the part of the cruise line or one of its employees, you probably have a valid lawsuit on your hands. But things get a little more complicated if you get sick on a foreign cruise.

What is Considered a "Foreign" Cruise?

A foreign cruise is generally defined as one that does not begin or end in a United States port. For example, if you go to Europe and take a cruise in the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Athens, that is a foreign cruise.

The problem with getting sick on a foreign cruise is that you may not have the legal right to sue the cruise ship or cruise line in the United States. You might have to find a lawyer in the country where the cruise began or ended and sue there.

You might wonder why that is, especially if you bought your cruise ticket in the United States, from what seems to be a U.S.-based company.

In general, the determination of whether you can sue the cruise line if you get sick on a foreign cruise depends on two factors:

  • What your ticket says, and
  • Who the potential defendants are.

Let’s take a look at each of those factors in a little more detail.

The Ticket Language

The language of a cruise line ticket is very important, even though it can be a very long and complex document. It contains many pages of terms and conditions in small, “boilerplate” print. Buried in the middle of all that boilerplate are a few paragraphs that lay out where you must file any lawsuit that arises as a result of the cruise -- and possibly even who you must file that lawsuit against. It is very possible that that language purports to require you to file suit in some country that seems to have nothing to do with the cruise. For example, the ticket might say, in very difficult to understand language, that, for a cruise that goes from France to Greece, you have to file suit in England.

Federal law allows cruise ships to hold passengers to this language, as long as the language is written properly. So, if you get sick on a foreign cruise, you should be aware that you may not have the right to sue anyone for your illness in a United States court.

The key distinction here is that the ticket’s language is not always binding on you, depending on how it is written. If it does not comply with federal law, it may not be binding. Skilled maritime lawyers are sometimes able to find loopholes in the language and the law that will allow you to file suit in the U.S. For that reason, if you get sick on a foreign cruise, you should make sure to speak with a qualified maritime personal injury lawyer as soon as you come home.

Potential Defendants in a Cruise Ship Case

Your ticket language might also tell you who you have to sue if you get sick or hurt on their cruise. But this language may or may not be accurate, meaning it might not hold up in the eyes of the law.

As a general rule, people who get hurt or sick on any cruise -- whether foreign or domestic -- are entitled to sue the owner of the cruise ship, the operator of the cruise, the employer of the crew on the cruise ship, and possibly even the company that sold you the cruise package (that makes three or even four potential defendants).

A skilled maritime personal injury lawyer will want to perform his/her own research as to exactly who all of these entities are. You would never want to take the cruise line’s word in the contract for who the potential defendants might be.

Because cruise lines usually create multiple corporations to own and operate their cruise ships, and because these corporations are not generally United States-based corporations, it usually takes quite a bit of investigation to uncover who really owns and operates the ship on which you got sick. Then, once you know who the right defendants are, it may turn out that one or more of these defendants actually have some connection with the United States that will allow you to sue them in the United States, despite what your ticket says.

Possible Limitation of Damages

Another problem that can arise if you get hurt or sick on a foreign cruise is that you may be subject to a serious limitation on personal injury damages available to you.

Depending on your ticket language, your cruise may be subject to an international treaty called the Athens Convention, which may limit any damages that you might receive to approximately $80,000, based on the current exchange rate. However, a cruise ship ticket must be very specific in order to invoke the Athens Convention. If the ticket language is not precise enough, the cruise line will not be permitted to invoke the Athens Convention limitation.

Watch the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit against a defendant. In cruise ship cases, it is usually no more than one year, and may even be shorter. What's more, most cruise lines also have a notice requirement, meaning that if you want to sue them, you have to give them formal written notice of your claim within a specific period of time, usually just a couple of months after your injury or illness.

If you got sick on a foreign cruise, it is critical that you do not miss the notice requirement and the statute of limitations, so you should contact a qualified maritime personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to make sure your legal rights are protected.

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