Understanding the Limits of a Cruise Ship Contract

News of the now-infamous Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, has filled Twitter accounts, web pages, and air waves with tales of long lines for food and failed toilets. Pictures of disembarked travelers kissing the ground wearing Carnival robes marked the end of five days at sea floating in the Gulf of Mexico, following an engine room fire that knocked out power. Analysts and talking heads assessed the likelihood of success for those who choose to sue Florida-based Carnival for their week-long ordeal, pointing to the signed contract attached to the ticket that limits where you can sue and the liabilities of the cruise ship company owners.

image.jpgA cruise ship ticket contract is generally considered enforceable so long as it is fundamentally fair. In Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1990), the Supreme Court upheld a contract clause that limited all law suits to Florida. However, a cruise line cannot contract away all of its liability, especially when it comes to personal injury. An 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case that originated from the Southern District of Florida, (Johnson v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 802 F. Supp. 2d 1316, (S.D. Fla., 2011)), pointed to 46 U.S.C.S. § 30509, which prohibits the owner or agent of a vessel transporting passengers between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country from including in a contract a provision limiting the liability of the owner or agent for personal injury or death caused by the negligence or fault of the owner or the owner’s employees or agents.

In that case, Royal heavily relied on contract law as grounds for a summary judgment against a passenger who injured herself participating in an onboard cruise activity. She signed up to use a surf and boogie board simulator and signed an “onboard activity waiver” that released Royal and its employees from any liabilities resulting from injuries. The passenger injured her ankle while attempting to do a maneuver on a boogie board, which was against the safety guidelines for that activity on the ship. The lower courts initially agreed with Royal, but the Court of Appeals reversed, stating that the passenger could still sue the company as the ship clearly met the requirements of a vessel described in 46 U.S.C.S. § 30509 and her injury was the result of Royal’s employee instructing her to perform an unsafe maneuver.


The South Florida law firm Friedman, Rodman & Frank has over 30 years of experience litigating personal injury claims. The cruise ship accident attorneys have recovered millions for those injured because of others’ negligence. Extensive knowledge of Admiralty and Maritime law combined with aggressive representation has produced the compensation required to pay medical bills or lost wages. The attorneys of Friedman, Rodman & Frank have served many passengers outside of Florida who need reliable, local representation to handle their cruise ship accident claim. If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys in a free, confidential consultation, contact us at (877) 448-8585.

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Costa Concordia Wreck Leads to New Safety Policies, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, January 24, 2013

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