Cruise Ships Can Pose a High-Risk for Slips, Falls, Accidents and Injuries

When you think of taking a cruise vacation, you may imagine boarding a massive commercial cruise ship and spending weeks at sea, sailing to beautiful tropic locations all over the globe.  Perhaps you have always dreamed of a once-in-a lifetime vacation aboard one of 430 cruise ships in the world touring any of the 2,000 popular international vacation ports. Or maybe you are one of the 60% of cruise passengers who wish to return to a location to which you have already cruised. Despite the destination or duration, for nearly 30 million passengers every year, a cruise can be the ultimate vacation. Cruise Ship

Approximately 43% of all cruise passengers are citizens of the United States. But not every cruise has to be to a tropical island. For many Americans, a cruise down the Mississippi or Missouri River is the perfect family vacation get-away. Approximately 50,000 passengers will enjoy local cruises on American Queen Voyages and American Cruise Lines for the 1,200-mile journey down the twisting Mississippi River this year.

The newest and largest ship in the region—the Viking Mississippi—made its inaugural trip down “Old Man River” in 2022 and will carry nearly 18,000 passengers in 2023 to ports in seven states:

  • Louisiana (Baton Rouge, Darrow, New Orleans and St. Francisville)
  • Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg)
  • Tennessee (Memphis)
  • Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis)
  • Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport)
  • Wisconsin (La Crosse)
  • Minnesota (Red Wing, St. Paul)

In addition to these larger cruise line excursions, there are multiple, smaller paddlewheel boat cruises that operate on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and carry up to 30,000 passengers every year. Despite the luxury, thrill, and excitement offered aboard any of these vessels, however, cruise ships can pose a high-risk for slips, falls, accidents, and injuries.

What are the Injury and Accident Risks on a Cruise Ship?

Cruise ships are designed for entertainment and activity. Most large commercial cruise ships are enormous structures that carry thousands of passengers at a time. About 11% of cruise ships can accommodate more than 4,000 passengers onboard. Most cruise ships (32%) host between 2,000 and 3,000 guests. The largest cruise ship in the world as of 2022—Wonders of the Sea—can carry up to 7,000 passengers onboard. It contains 18 decks and is as tall as a 20-story building.

Royal Caribbean has plans to launch an even bigger vessel—Icon of the Sea—in January, 2024. Icon will house 7,600 passengers and 2,350 crew members on its 20 decks and will span the length of four football fields. According to Forbes Magazine, Icon of the Sea will include amenities such as:

  • A full water park with six “record-breaking” water slides
  • More than 40-restaurants, cafes, bars and lounges
  • Seven pools
  • A two-story “Coastal Kitchen”
  • A Central Park
  • An aqua dome restaurant with water falls and live theatre
  • Eight uniquely diverse neighborhood designs
  • A 3-story family townhouse with a white picket fence and mailbox

Given the size, passenger capacity, and entertainment amenities of even the most basic cruise ship, there are numerous hazards throughout a ship that naturally pose a danger to the safety of those onboard.  Even smaller cruise ships pose hazards to patrons that often result in injury.

Slip-and-fall accidents are the most common ways passengers and crew members are injured on a cruise ship.  Slip-and-fall accidents are as prevalent on cruise ships as they are on normal land surfaces, but cruise ships include potential safety hazards that are inherent to their unique maritime environment. Here are some of the reasons why slip and fall injuries often occur in common areas on a cruise ship:

  • Cruise ships often have a variety of floor surfaces throughout the ship
  • Floor surfaces on a cruise ship often are uneven
  • Open deck surfaces accumulate sea spray and easily become wet and slippery
  • Sea-salt air can corrode floor surfaces very easily
  • Numerous pool areas throughout the ship create wet surfaces that are easily tracked to high-volume traffic areas
  • A variety of common areas, like restaurants, bathrooms, theaters, and dance floors often present foreign substances and create safety hazards
  • Ship floors are often waxed or buffed for maintenance
  • Numerous restaurants and bars onboard lead to spilled drinks, foreign substances, and intoxicated patrons
  • Faulty or lack of slip-resistant or non-skid walkway surfaces
  • Dim lighting in stairwells and walkways
  • Severe weather, high wind conditions, and rough seas
  • Improper maintenance of common areas

All of these conditions contribute to the hazards inherent in a cruise ship environment.

What Law Applies to Slip-and-Fall Cases Onboard a Cruise Ship?

In Missouri, in a normal slip-and-fall case, the victim must prove that the property owner was negligent in failing to correct a dangerous condition that the property owner knew or should have known existed or that the property owner failed to warn the victim of the hazardous condition. When a slip and fall occurs on a cruise ship, federal maritime law governs the liability of the cruise ship. However, federal maritime law adopts a similar negligence theory for proving liability on the part of the cruise line.

To prove negligence for a slip-and-fall on a cruise ship, the victim must prove four things:

  • The cruise line had a duty to protect the passenger from a particular injury;
  • The cruise line breached its duty to protect the passenger;
  • The cruise line’s breach of duty actually and proximately caused the passenger’s injury; and
  • The passenger suffered actual harm as a result of the slip and fall.

These are the normal requirements for proving negligence in a slip and fall case.  However, because of the unique environment and conditions inherent to a cruise ship, the issue of whether a cruise line breached its duty of care to a passenger can apply slightly differently than under normal slip-and-fall conditions on land.

In a normal slip-and-fall case, the victim must show that the property owner knew or should have known of the existence of a particular hazard. For example, if a customer in a store trips over a loose extension cord exposed in the store and sues the store owner for negligence for failure to warn the customer about the loose cord, the customer must show that the store owner knew, or had reason to know, that this particular hazard existed.  Likewise, if someone spilled a bottle of water at the bottom of an escalator in a business office and a client slipped on the spilled water and was injured, to prove that the building owner was negligent, the victim must prove that the building owner knew or should have known that there was a pool of spilled water at the bottom of the escalator but failed to clean it up or warn the client of this hazardous condition. However, courts have held that the duty of a cruise line to protect its patrons may apply differently based on the inherent nature of the cruise environment.

To prove negligence on a cruise, the victim does not have to prove that the cruise line knew or had reason to know of a particular hazard. Instead, the injured passenger only needs to prove that the cruise line had actual or constructive notice that the area where the victim slipped and fell had a reasonable tendency to become wet or slippery or to present a hazard. So, a passenger on a cruise who is injured as a result of a slip-and-fall does not need to prove that the cruise line knew that a particular spot on the surface of an open deck had become slick, that a particular lounge chair blew into the path of a walkway, or that a particular step leading to the water park deck was slippery with water. Instead, the victim only needs to prove that the cruise line had reason to know that certain areas of the ship tend to present dangerous or hazardous conditions because of:

  • Inherent weather conditions
  • The nature of the amenities
  • Typical conditions that natural develop in certain areas of the ship
  • Passengers’ normal use of a specific area.

A cruise line is held to a duty of knowing that the surfaces of open decks become wet and slippery from the sea air, that high winds often blow lounge chairs into walkways on decks, or that swimmers exiting the many pools and water park slides tend to track water into surrounding areas of the ship. The issue then becomes whether the cruise line acted reasonably in fulfilling its duty to protect its passengers based on its knowledge of the inherent hazardous conditions aboard a cruise ship. This can be difficult.  To establish this, you need an experienced slip-and-fall attorney like those at Foster Wallace, LLC.

Why Do I Need an Experienced Slip and Fall Attorney?

If you are like 17% of the total U.S. population, then you have been on a cruise at least once. And if you have been on a cruise before, then you are 80% likely to book your next vacation on another cruise, and there is a 70% chance that your next cruise will be in the coming year. Even if you have never been on a cruise before, you may be one of the 60% of Americans who are likely to undertake their first cruise in the next several years.

If you were on a cruise when you slipped and fell, or if you take a cruise in the future and suffer any kind of injury resulting from a slip-and-fall aboard the ship, you should contact Foster Wallace, LLC, immediately.  To recover for any injuries you may have suffered as a result of your slip-and-fall aboard a cruise ship, you only have a small window of time to file your claim against the operator of the cruise line. Your contract accompanying your tickets for the cruise also could have conditions that limit your ability to sue for damages resulting from an accident. To file your claim correctly and in a timely manner, you need an experienced slip-and-fall attorney to investigate and handle your claim. The attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, are experienced with slip-and-fall cases and understand what evidence is necessary to prove that cruise ship operators are liable for the hazards that are naturally present on a cruise ship.

The cruise line industry is a $30-billion-dollar industry. When accidents occur, the cruise line will go to great lengths to avoid liability. But cruise lines have a duty to understand and protect you from the hazardous conditions that naturally occur on a cruise.  If you have been injured on a cruise ship, don’t just assume it was your fault. Let an experienced slip-and-fall attorney at Foster Wallace, LLC, investigate your case and hold the cruise line responsible for providing a safe environment for your vacation cruise. Call the Kansas City personal injury lawyers at Foster Wallace, LLC, today at 816-249-2101 for a free consultation.  We will make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.

Brian Wallace
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Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney