Cruise lines have the duty and responsibility to provide a safe environment to their paying customers and to prevent the risk of injury or death of passengers while on a cruise ship. Sadly, every year several passengers who board cruise ships disappear or fall overboard through no fault of their own.
According to the Los Angeles Times. Long Beach Fire Department spokesman Steve Yamamoto confirmed that Kelly Ryann Dorrell, a 26-year-old woman, who was a passenger on the Queen Mary ocean liner fell over the handrail from the ship’s fourth story (some 75 feet). In her fall, the woman collided with several parts of the ship and sustained massive trauma to the head before eventually falling into the water. Her boyfriend, who witnessed the fall, jumped in the water in an attempt to rescue the woman, along with two police officers who were nearby.
Some early reports indicate that the woman was drinking at the time and fell overboard after she lost her balance. After being rescued by the firefighters, Kelly Dorrell was transported to the hospital in critical condition and pronounced dead later that day. An autopsy on Dorrell’s body on December 15, 2011 will help to determine the level of blood alcohol content of the deceased at the time of the incident.
In cases where a cruise passenger falls overboard, Leesfield Scolaro cruise ship attorneys will look at all legal avenues to determine whether the cruise line met its duties and if the incident could have been prevented:
Defective or Inadequate Handrail:
In the Cruise Ship Safety Act passed by Congress, all cruise ships are required to have handrails at least 42 inches (forty-two) tall. This new law will be effective by January 1, 2012. If a handrail is found to be in violation of the law, and a passenger falls overboard or disappears, the cruise line could be responsible for its own negligence.
Failure to Warn of Bad Weather:
One of the misconceptions of the public at large about to board a cruise ship for the first time is the effect rough weather conditions can have on their safety. Being on a very large ocean liner does not immune cruise passengers from injuries when the ship enters a patch of rough weather. When at sea, cruise lines have the duty to warn its passengers from bad weather as soon as the dangers become known. To fulfill their duties, cruise ships are equipped with radars that detect patches of rough weather far in advance of feeling their effect. Cruise lines can be held liable for failure to warn passengers who injure themselves or fall off the ship during a storm.
Cruise Lines can be held Strictly Liable
In past cases, passengers were pushed overboard by the cruise ship’s crew members. If a passenger dies, disappears or sustains injuries because of a crew member’s violent act, the cruise line will be held strictly liable. Cruise lines have the duty to protect their passengers from violence, especially violent behavior from crew members.
Violence between Passengers
In general, a cruise line will not be held strictly liable for a passenger’s injuries or death caused by the physical assault of another passenger. However, cruise ships may be held liable if it failed to provide adequate security or failed to prevent an assault or contributed in some way to the assault. (Alcohol Consumption)
Today, most cruise lines allow passengers 21 years of age and older to drink alcohol on the ship. Even though cruise ship employees are trained to request the ID card of passengers, it is not infrequent that teenagers and under-age passengers consume alcohol on cruise ships. Cruise lines also have the duty to limit passengers’ alcohol intake. This self-imposed duty can result in the cruise line’s liability if it is determined that a passenger became intoxicated and fell off the ship.
When a passenger is reported missing, cruise lines must perform a reasonable and adequate search and rescue operation. If the cruise line fails to search for a missing passenger or performs an inadequate rescue operation, it may be found liable for the disappearance or death of the passenger.