Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) – Cruise Passengers Beware!!!

government cut2.jpgHurray for the Miami Heat. Boo (and shame on) Micky Arinson, the billionaire owner of the Heat.

Micky Arison also owns Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise operator. While the company operates many of its ships from American ports, enjoying the laws and protections only America can afford, it hides behind a labyrinth of one-sided procedures and antiquated laws that effectively limit the ability of its passengers to be fairly compensated for serious losses suffered on the high seas, including the most serious loss of all, the loss of life.

First, the procedural issues:

  • Pursuant to the passengers’ ticket, passengers who are injured on cruise ships operated by Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Costa, or Royal Caribbean are required to bring claims in Federal Court in South Florida.
  • Within six months of an accident, injured passengers must submit a detalied letter to the defendant describing the accident. Failure to do this may bar further action by the victim.
  • A one-year statute of limitations. In other words, a lawsuit must be brought within one year of the accident.
  • The victim must travel to Miami to be deposed. In addition, the defendant has the right to perform a medical examination on the victim in Miami, and the mediation and the trial take place in Miami. These venue issues can present significant hardships to the plaintiff, who usually resides in another state or another country altogether.

Perhaps the greatest affront is the limited recovery afforded survivors of loved ones who die on the high seas as a result of negligence occurring onboard a ship. This limitation is prescribed by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). Where a plaintiff dies on the high seas beyond a marine league [i.e., three nautical miles] from the shore of any State, or the District of Columbia, or the Territories or dependencies of the United States, the survivors of the decedent are limited to pecuniary losses – essentially related medical bills and funeral expenses. Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, loss of society, services and comfort of spouse, parent or child cannot be claimed. (Contrast these limits to Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, which affords certain survivors the right to recover these damages.)

That the law has so little regard for the loss of human life is unconscionable. Cruise ship companies lobby Congress hard to keep this law firmly in place. Shameful.

Making high seas cruising even dicier for passengers is that the medical staff onboard vessels, typically not of the highest caliber to begin with, are considered independent contractors, and therefore, not the cruise ship company’s legal responsibility when negligent care is provided. This means that a passenger harmed by the negligent care of onboard medical staff is stuck trying to recover his or her damages from the medical provider only, instead of also from the cruise ship company. This is not an easy task. Not only do these providers rarely carry adequate medical malpractice insurance coverage, but they are mostly non-Americans who are moving from port to port or no longer onboard at all, making service of legal papers virtually impossible.

The legal authority for this unfair and illogical status between onboard medical staff and the cruise ship companies is Carnival Corp. v. Carlisle, 953 So.2d 461 (Fla. 2007).

So, while Micky Arison and his fellow cruise ship owners enjoy the spoils of favorable rules and laws to rake in millions of dollars, cruise ship passengers cruise the high seas at great peril to their health, safety, and welfare.

NOTE: “Crewmen” are afforded greater rights than cruise ship passengers for loss of life and injury due to medical negligence.

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Contact us at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your legal rights.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.