If you fall ill or suffer an accident while you are on a cruise ship, you may be able to claim compensation. The Cruise Operator is responsible for your safety from the point at which you embark up until the point at which you disembark.
The law that governs claims for compensation made in relation to cruise ships is different from the law in relation to other types of holidays, and is highly specialised – so it is important to get professional advice as soon as possible.
What type of cruise claims can be made?
There are many different types of compensation claims involving cruise ships. The essence of a successful claim is that your illness or injury happened as a result of the Cruise Operator’s negligence. For example, you may fall ill with food poisoning during your cruise as a result of inadequate hygiene standards, or you may become injured or ill due to poor maintenance of on-board swimming pools or hot tubs.
Claims for slips and trips are also common – for example, where a busy walkway has been cleaned and left wet without any prominent warnings and a passenger slips and injures themselves.
Yet another fairly common claim is for falling objects that have struck passengers and caused injury. Cruise ships have many levels and their walkways often pass under bridges and balconies. Sometimes the operator does not take proper precautions, such as roping off areas where elevated maintenance work is taking place, or only permitting maintenance work to be done outside of peak hours and this leads to a passenger sustaining an injury.
Your Cruise Operator is also obliged to provide adequate security during your trip. If you suffer from an assault because the Operator provides inadequate or negligent security, they may be liable.
Which laws apply on a cruise ship holiday?
The area of law that governs responsibility for accidents on board cruise ships is very complex. In many cases, the Athens Convention is the relevant law. This applies:
- When the cruise ship’s port of departure and destination port are different
- When the cruise ship’s port of departure and destination port are the same – but there is at least one other port of call in a different country during the cruise
However, there are more rules which say that the Athens Convention can apply in additional circumstances – for example, under the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (Domestic Carriage) Order 1987 the Convention may still be relevant if your cruise departs from a UK port where there are no other intermediate ports of call.
Where the Athens Convention does apply to your circumstances, you have just two years from the date you sustained an injury or illness to start proceedings which must be brought in the Admiralty Division of the High Court. This may sound like a long time, but there is often a lot of work to do in preparation for a claim. It is therefore important to seek advice as early as possible to establish whether it is the Convention or a different set of laws that are relevant.
Should the Athens Convention apply, it operates very much in your favour, imposing a presumption of fault on the cruise ship operator. This means that the operator will have to prove that the injury or illness was not their fault. The Athens Convention does place limits on the amount of compensation that you can claim, although these limits are generous.
Another benefit of the Athens Convention is that you can usually bring your claim for compensation in whichever country is most convenient for you. So as an example, if you make your booking in the UK but your cruise departs from Italy, you will still be able to bring your claim in the English courts.
What happens when the Convention does not apply?
In some circumstances, the Athens Convention will not be relevant to your claim – for example, if your cruise departed from a foreign port and there were no other ports of call. In such cases, it is likely that there are other laws which will assist. For example, if the cruise is run by a UK tour operator, you may still be able to pursue a claim against them under the Package Travel Regulations. Tour operators are responsible for their suppliers – which in this case means the Cruise Operator. Under these Regulations, the burden will be on you to prove fault, and you will have up to three years to bring your claim.
Where your cruise was paid for using a credit card, you also have the option of claiming against the credit card company instead under Section 75(1) of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, provided that the cruise cost more than £100. This provides a fall back should you sustain an injury or illness on a cruise ship and be unable to make a claim under the Athens Convention or Package Travel Regulations. In all cases, seeking early advice will maximise your chances of a successful claim.