Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Excursion

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While packing sunscreen or researching potential sights to see, no one expects that their long-awaited cruise vacation might end in tragedy. However, in its decades of practice, Leesfield & Partners has seen all too well just how easily these trips can take a turn for the worse. 

Whether it be crashes on excursion buses, slipping on decks void of regulation handrails or an on-board medical professional refusing to evacuate a guest, Leesfield & Partners has seen families through it all. These tragic injuries have changed the lives of cruise ship guests, employees, and their loved ones, forever marring what should have been a beautiful memory of a relaxing getaway or just another day at work. 

In 2023, approximately 7.3 million people went through Port Miami on their way to their cruises.

In 2023, approximately 7.3 million people went through Port Miami on their way to their cruises.

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A family cruise turned tragic when a parasailing excursion went awfully wrong, taking the life of a mother and wife. During the cruise, the mother and daughter purchased a shore excursion offered aboard the cruise ship, a parasail excursion which would take place after the ship docked at one of its scheduled stops.

After the parasail operators sent mom and daughter up in the sky, the rope broke off due to heavy winds and dangerous weather conditions. This resulted in the two passengers to plummet into the water at a very high rate of speed. The force of the impact caused traumatic injuries to daughter and mom sustained fatal injuries.

Leesfield & Partners filed suit against the carrier and the tour operator. The cruise carrier argued that the tour operator was an independent contractor and that the responsibility of the cruise line could not and was not engaged. Ultimately, after several months of litigation, our maritime law attorneys secured a $7.25 million settlement on behalf of the family and daughter.

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According to reports, half a dozen Princess Cruise passengers have died in a horrific mid-air collision incident. The tour – Misty Fjords National Monument by Seaplane (with Wilderness Landing) – was booked through Princess Cruises, either on board or on Princess Cruises’ website.

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Photo from Taquan Air’s website – Taquan Air was involved in the mid-air collision over Alaska on May 13, 2019

The investigation into the circumstances and causes of the collision are already under way with teams from the Coast Guards, the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board already on scene.

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zipline-300x225Awful cruise line news broke last week about a newlywed couple who collided with each other during a zip line tour in Roatan, Honduras, resulting in death and injuries. The individuals involved in the incident, an Israeli couple, were celebrating their honeymoon with a cruise vacation on Royal Caribbean’s vessel Allure of the Seas. Sadly, it is a scene repeated all too often.

Cruise lines, which form a $40 billion dollar a year industry, derive substantial profits from shore excursions which they market and sell to passengers as part of the cruise vacation experience. Passengers should be very cautious before deciding to go on a cruise sanctioned shore excursion, as many of the basic safety standards and regulations mandated in the United States go absent or unenforced in foreign cruise ports of call.

In the last few years there have been many injuries and deaths from zip lining incidents during a cruise line shore excursion. In fact, several such incidents have occurred before in Roatan, Honduras. In 2015 a passenger on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas was horrifically injured while zip lining in Roatan on a zip line that was negligently operated with too much slack in the line. In 2009 a passenger on a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel plummeted to her death when a zip line cable in Gumbalimba Park, Honduras, snapped in mid air. There have been many other instances of death and injury from zip lining in other foreign ports of call, normally from faulty equipment and excursion operator error.

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Cruise lines and recreational activity providers market their products as gateways to fun and adventure, but when injury occurs, they will vigorously fight to avoid liability. But there are ways to overcome their defenses.

By Ira H. Leesfield and Leesfield & Partners Attorneys

Outdoor recreation is a titanic industry, enticing millions of people annually to travel close to home or pack their bags for a faraway adventure. Entrepreneurs across the world capitalize on their regions’ natural beauty and create exotic excursions to attract vacationers. Meanwhile, corporate powerhouses—major resorts and cruise lines—recognize the allure of exciting experiences in unfamiliar environments, and they aggressively advertise and oversee these adventures. But when tragedy strikes—such as jet ski crashes, scuba diving drowning, all-terrain vehicle accidents, etc.—the same tour operators and vacation providers who courted your client fervently try to avoid accountability.

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Tour-bus-crash-01With the main cruise ship companies based in Miami, Leesfield & Partners has represented countless families of cruise passengers who lost their lives or who were gravely injured while on a cruise excursion.  Whether a son killed in a bus accident in front of his parents on their way to an excursion, or a mother fatally injured and daughter sustaining extreme brain damage during a parasailing excursion, or a husband drowning during a snorkel excursion, the pattern of negligence is often the same in each and every case.  Cruise lines will advertise their ships as the safest floating cities on the planet, but the truth is the excursions cruise lines select for their passengers are less than safe, if not downright dangerous.

Cruise lines will sell excursions to their passengers, either during the booking process on the internet, or directly on the ship.  Excursions represent a major selling point and entice most passengers to purchase excursions as a way of visiting far away countries and islands while the ship is docked.  Unfortunately, passengers are led to believe that cruise lines are in charge of running these excursions and maintaining the equipment pertaining to, or the transport to and from a cruise excursion.  However, that cannot be further from the truth.

In the last 24 hours, Royal Caribbean (owner of Celebrity Cruises) has confirmed that several cruise passengers (Celebrity Equinox & Serenade of the Seas) were fatally injured in a bus crash in Eastern Mexico.  The bus company selected by Royal to transport its passengers, Costa Maya Mahahual, confirmed that they had just picked up passengers who had boarded off two cruise ships that had just docked in the coastal town of Mahahual.  The excursion sold by Royal was a guided tour of the Mayan Ruins located in Chacchoben, which is approximately 100 miles west from the port.

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The cruise ship industry is plagued by norovirus and other multiple claims of sickness and illness from unsanitized standards and crew practices. Fortunately, those incidents are often temporary and transient. However, in an effort to aggressively compete, each major cruise line has made their ship a “recreational or theme park” resulting in more serious injuries, drowning accidents and deaths on board and through excursion packages.

Where is the ship that doesn’t have tennis and basketball courts, Jacuzzis, water slides and an entire array of poorly planned and non-supervised activities to keep passengers fully occupied. “The experience is no longer the cruise, but rather the activities aboard the cruise ship,” according to noted maritime lawyer, Ira Leesfield. An online search of the diverse and dangerous activities for each vessel does not reveal the failure to provide lifeguards, safety officers and crime deterrent, uniform and non-uniformed cruise personnel.

Recent rise in cases through the cruise industry is commensurate with the tremendous increase in the number of passengers and the obvious profit incentive of shepherding the largest number of passengers with the smallest number of staff.

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Last week, Theresa Meuers was untimely killed in a horrendous motor vehicle accident that occurred on George Price Highway in Belize. You may read Theresa’s obituary published in the Star Tribune.

Accident0009.jpgThat day, in the late morning hours, Theresa and Sam Schulte, her companion, were in the back seat of an SUV driven by Tour Guide, Leon Rodriguez (some have reported that the driver’s name is Leon Garcia of Big John’s Tours.) Before noon, Rodriguez overtook an 18-wheeler that was transporting oranges, and several seconds later returned in the same right lane. At this point, there are different witness accounts, mainly from Rodriguez, and the driver of the truck, Miguel Angel Arriaga. Rodriguez told the authorities that he slowed down to make a right turn, while Arriaga said that Rodriguez came to a complete stop in the middle of the road, with no turn signal indicating he was going to make a right. Arriaga told Police that he was unable to stop the truck in time and he rammed the 18-wheeler into the rear of the SUV at great speed.

Theresa and Sam were both stuck in the completely destroyed SUV for almost one full hour before an ambulance arrived at the scene of the accident. They were both taken to the hospital, but Theresa did not survive her injuries and was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.

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Article written by Robert D. Peltz and Carol L. Finklehoffe of Leesfield & Partners Published in the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys Journal.

The allure of exotic foreign ports and exciting new excursions form the centerpiece of the advertising campaigns of cruise lines, whether in the broadcast, print or electronic media:

• Parasailing in St. Thomas • Zip lining in Costa Rica • Snorkeling in the lagoons of Bermuda • Jungle trekking by ATV in Cozumel • Alpine hiking on Alaskan glaciers • Driving the scenic mountains of Tortola • Learning the secrets of the cooks of Caribbean by visiting local villages in Dominica • Visiting the Mayan ruins at Tulum

Over the past decade, the number of passengers cruising with North America’s largest cruise lines has literally exploded. According to industry figures, the number of passengers has dramatically increased from 9.5 million in 2003 to over 16 million passengers forecasted to cruise in 2012. As the industry itself is quick to admit, at least to its shareholders and tour excursion partners, the continued development of new and existing excursions has played a major role in this growth.

Nevertheless, at the first sign of an excursion gone awry, the cruise lines have been quick to try and disassociate themselves from responsibility for their own creations. In an effort to insulate themselves from liability, the cruise lines have utilized a system of disclaimers, which attempt to hide the true character of their relationships with their tour operating partners. These disclaimers are typically buried in the fine print in the passenger’s ticket of passage and in self-serving statements inserted into the cruise lines’ contract’s with their tour operators.

There is typically a wide divergence, however, between these self-serving statements and the facts on the ground when it comes to describing the cruise lines actual relationship with its excursion partners. Overcoming these inaccurate self-serving and inaccurate descriptions contained in the carrier’s written and electronic materials therefore typically becomes the first order of business.

Click here to read more about out firm’s cruise ship litigation practice

Contrary to these disclaimers, the most accurate description of the relationship between the carrier and its tour operating partners is best characterized by the joint venture. Nevertheless, because of the degree of control maintained by the carrier, various other agency relationships are equally as applicable in most cases. This article will discuss the nature of these various relationships, strategies for holding both the carrier and tour operator responsible for their conduct and the discovery which will be helpful in the process.

Holding the Tour Operator Responsible

Although most of the attention in excursion cases is typically focused on holding the cruise line responsible for its negligence, it is important not to overlook the case against the tour operator. Sometimes, one gets lucky and the tour operator is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or some other domestic location. Most of the time, however, that is not the case. Nevertheless, that is not reason for despair.
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Royal Caribbean-operated cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas, was in the middle of a 7-night Caribbean cruise originating from Port Canaveral, when it stopped in Pic Paradis, St. Martin.

As is customary, passengers are invited to spend their dollars on cruise excursions while the ship is docked for several hours in the island. One of those excursions is the Loterie Farm Treetop Adventure Tour, which consists of a treetop ropes course and zipline adventure. Passengers had to board a bus, operated by Dutch Tours Enterprises N.V., from the dock to gain access to the location, and that is when an incident happened, in the words of Matt Stead, a Freedom of the Seas passenger present on the bus:

bus.jpg“Just after we went through the Loterie Farm gate we felt the driver hit the brakes, but no brakes and then the bus just started careening down. About half way down we hit a speed bump and everyone hit the ceiling and then the bus just continued rolling down the hill. There was a guy driving coming up the hill while we were going down so we ran into him, flipped that vehicle over and then ran straight down into the ditch. Tree branches got into the bus and many people received whip lashes from the branches. Everyone was screaming manically, we thought we were plunging to our deaths but the tree saved us.”

Another Freedom of the Seas passenger wrote in a message board: “I was on the bus sitting front row, directly behind the driver. My twin boys were sitting front row on the passenger side … It was the most frightening experience of our lives and one which will haunt us forever. I got seriously banged up and required stitches, as well as one of my sons. Had I not dove over to protect them and absorb their impact before we hit, they would have been much more seriously injured. How no one was killed is a miracle.”

From these two accounts as well as multiple others, it seems that passengers feel the driver was negligent in his operation of the 49-seat tour bus, or possibly that the bus itself had not been maintained properly when its brakes seemingly failed at the worst time.

tourists-make-the-long-walk-up-hill-after-accident.jpgWhat is also customary is the way Royal Caribbean and the local authorities, who depend on the cruise line industry to bring them tourist money, will spin what truly occurred. Already a spokesman for RCCL is portraying the driver as a life-saver: “This was a traffic accident, a type of which can happen anywhere and is no reflection on the bus company. The bus driver had to take an evasive maneuver to avoid an oncoming vehicle.
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