In February 2011, a female cruise passenger, Jane Doe (“JD”), boarded a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for an 7-day cruise in the Eastern Carribean. She was traveling with a wedding party of 25 from Canada to celebrate her best friend’s wedding which was planned to take place on the beach in St. Thomas. JD was to be the Maid of Honor and was sharing a cabin with the bride’s mother.
That day, after enjoying a day of relaxation and sunbathing, JD decided she had enough sun and went up to her cabin. Once back in the cabin, she went to bed and fell asleep. Moments later, she was attacked by a crew member / room steward. JD’s attacker performed forcible oral sex on her and raped her as well. JD repeatedly told the crew member to stop, but he continued raping her. That is when the bride and her mother entered the cabin and walked in on their friend being raped.
It was established that the crew member had entered JD’s cabin by using his staff key while JD was asleep, Cruise Ship Attorney Alexander Perkins was able to reach a seven figure settlement for our client.
Cruise Lines Ignore Sex Crimes by Cruise Employees on Passengers
The repetitive problem of sex crimes by cruise employees aboard cruise ships finally surfaced in 2005 after several high profile incidents on the high seas. It culminated in congressional hearings, where the cruise industry leaders testified they would address the safety concerns and implement preventive measures, including uniform reporting of crimes and cooperating with federal authorities such as the FBI and Coast Guard. The specific problem of cabin stewards having unlimited access to passenger rooms was a major area of concern. The cruise line industry promised to take corrective action. Sadly for JD, the situation has yet to be addressed.
In September 2007, a Royal Caribbean cabin attendant used his key card to enter a female passenger’s cabin at night while she slept in her bed and raped her. In another publicized RCCL rape case, the Court required RCCL to provide the number of incidents of sexual assault and harassment on its cruise ships for a period of two and a half years. It indicated that over 250 women were sexually harassed, assaulted or battered. A large number of the incidents occurred in the passenger cabins. Between 2003-2005 there were 149 reported sexual assaults and in 2007 there were 69 sexual assaults reported aboard RCCL cruise ships, the majority by crew members against passengers. These statistics also do not include incidents between crew members, and of course the fact that many victims of sexual assault do not report it. The rate of sexual assault aboard cruise ships was found to be twice the rate found in the US.
President Barack Obama recently signed into law the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010. This Act mandated new measures including crime reporting and aid for rape victims such as requiring rape kits, medications to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, a trained forensic sexual assault specialist to be aboard each ship, training of crew members in preventing and detecting crime, preserving evidence and reporting crimes in international waters and new security features such as more cameras, time sensitive key technology, security latches etc. Despite the congressional hearings and passage of the Act these incidents continue to happen regularly aboard cruise ships.
Sexual Assault cases by crew members on cruise passengers are cases of strict vicarious liability. A cruise line owes a duty to its passengers to provide safe transport free from assault by its crew members. The strict liability standard of care applies in cases of intentional torts committed by employees of common carriers against their passengers. This is based on the special relationship between common carrier and passenger.
Read our article on the alleged rape of a 15-year-old cruise passenger