In 2014, the global cruise industry topped revenues of 37 billion dollars, marking a significant recovery from 2009 and the start of the global recession. There are more than 14.9 million North American travelers on cruise ships annually, and the projected number of annual tourists and passengers is expected to exceed 25 million in 2019.
Even though cruise ships offer virtually every luxury imaginable, the average profit per guest is under $250, compared to the average per ticket paid by consumers, which is $1,700. With such a low profitability ratio per guest, it is not difficult to imagine that there may be safety risks associated with “cutting corners” as cruise and hospitality businesses try to figuratively stay afloat.
If you are planning a family cruise, there are several factors that you should be aware of before you disembark. It is important to know your rights as a consumer with regard to types of personal injury cases, and the correct steps to take immediately following a qualifying illness or injury on a cruise ship.
Personal Injury Law and Liability for the Hospitality Industry
It is common for a cruise ship and tourist company to require a waiver that releases the company from liability for damages or injuries. Many cruise ships offer island excursions and other sporting activities that can include parasailing, jet skis or water skiing, and other activities that are at a high-risk of injury and possible fatalities. Hotels and other hospitality providers typically require the same waivers, as an attempt to limit liability, when they offer extreme sports and other activities.
However, a waiver does not make a tourist vacation provider immune to legal action, should they be found to be negligent in their safety. Many consumers fall into the misconception that simply because they have signed a waiver, that they are unable to seek punitive damages from the hospitality provider.
Personal injury law holds any business accountable for damages incurred as a direct result of negligence. That means that any business, including a cruise ship, can be sued for damages and compensation for medical expenses, if a failure to provide safe enjoyment and negligence can be proven in a court of law. Essentially, you may sign any waiver they ask you to, but if they have been irresponsible in a way that contributes to your injury, they may be held legally accountable for it.
Three Ways Tourists Can Become Injured on a Cruise Ship Vacation
A cruise onboard a luxury ship is an all-inclusive invitation that millions of consumers accept annually as a preferred vacation choice. However, cruise ships have recently been the subject of increased scrutiny for personal injury, health, and sanitation problems that contribute to injuries and infections for guests. Here are some of the high risk factors:
Some of the most recognized cruise ship carriers have been charged with significant health and safety issues when it comes to food storage and service. In 2015 and 2016, two Carnival Corp. cruise ships received a failing score after inspection, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specific to this incident, Carnival Cruise ships were found to have unsanitary kitchens, hazardous food, and insect remains in food preparation areas. One of the most noted in the news was an E.coli infection of roughly 30 percent of guests on one cruise in 2015.
It can be difficult to believe, but cruise ships are not legally required to have a lifeguard on duty for their pools, spas and other water sports activities. When you consider that thousands of guests use the pool facilities daily, the decision to avoid hiring lifeguards does not make sense; except to the cruise lines who insist that guards are “too expensive” to hire.
There is a certain amount of trust that families place in cruise ships and the hospitality staff that work on them. Every year, it is children who are most prone to injuries and fatalities from drowning incidents on cruise ships, while major cruise companies refuse to provide trained supervision. We presume that personal injury settlements (which can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars) are more expensive than systemically hiring lifeguards for guest safety; but, the concept has failed to motivate some of the biggest cruise companies, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
Illness and Infection
Did you know that the average major cruise ship has a maximum passenger capacity of 3,600 people? Larger cruise ships are waiting to be introduced in 2017, which can carry almost double that rate – with more than 6,700 approved – and a mega cruise ship is in planning (The New Freedom Ship) that will hold up to 50,000 people.
Whenever you have many people in a relatively limited geographic area, you have an increased rate of illness, disease, and infection. Shared facilities including showers and bathrooms, pools, hot tubs and spas, waterslides, and sporting equipment including rock walls and fitness centers are a prime area for virus and bacterial infections to occur and spread among guests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer a searchable online database of cruise ship companies who have failed basic sanitation inspections in recent years. Some cruise ships have even been found to use substandard levels of chlorine to disinfect shared pool and spa water, and been found negligent and sued via class action suit. It’s a cost-saving measure that frequently results in illness, infections, and personal injury liability for popular cruise ships.
What Consumers Need to Know Before Cruising on Vacation
It can be almost impossible to detect problems with food service or levels of sanitation in the pool and spa facilities in order to avoid infections, disease, or illness. However, if you are on vacation and you have encountered a problem that has impacted your health, you can (and should) thoroughly document the problem, and speak to a legal professional to file a formal complaint to seek reimbursement for health expenses incurred.
If more than one individual was impacted by a suspected negligent act by a cruise ship company, ensure that you exchange contact information if a class actions suit against the vacation company is required.