Contributors

Charles R. Lipcon
Charles R. Lipcon is the firm's founding attorney and has been handling injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims for over 40 years. Read More »
Jason R. Margulies
Jason R. Margulies is an experienced maritime lawyer and an active trial attorney handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Ricardo V. Alsina
Ricardo V. Alsina is an active trial attorney, handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Michael A. Winkleman
Mr. Winkleman is an active trial and appellate attorney handling all personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims, as well as complex business disputes. Read More »

Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents

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Increase in cruise ship accident rateThese days, it’s hard to turn on the TV or read a newspaper without hearing about a tragic accident involving a cruise ship. Whether it’s a mechanical issue or Norovirus outbreak, cruise lines seem to be constantly plagued with issues related to maritime safety – or as it would appear, a lack thereof.  As any maritime attorney at our firm can tell you, the cruise industry has never been 100 percent accident free, but it’s hard to ignore the surge of incidents that have been occurring in recent years.

But what exactly is contributing to all these accidents at sea? One would think that with all the technological advances that have been made in the past few decades, accidents involving cruise ships would be few and far between. At the very least, if an accident were to occur, it should be something so minor that guests on board the vessel shouldn’t even notice.

Maybe we aren’t asking the right question. Perhaps it’s not so much the fact that the cruise ship accident rate is increasing, but instead, the fact that the public is hearing about incidents a lot more these days.

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Life saver In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed how the continued lack of safety within the cruise industry has prompted Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to host several Senate Committee hearings on the issue. Despite the advances in surveillance and accident detection technology and the number of incidents that have occurred within the cruise industry, including injuries, assaults, thefts, and death, the cruise industry doesn’t seem to be taking the necessary procedures to ensure optimal safety for passengers on board. The continued increase in cruise crime and accident statistics has led the senator to propose another hearing to discuss these issues, which will hopefully be the turning point for improved cruise safety policies and procedures.

The new hearing, titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers,” is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM and will be broadcasted live to the public via the Senate Committee’s website.

Much like each admiralty attorney at our firm, Sen. Rockefeller recognizes that the lack of industry-wide safety onboard ships has contributed to the escalating number of incidents. A problem that we’ve seen time and time against is that safety seems to be an afterthought for the cruise industry. It usually takes a serious accident or crime to occur – followed by heavy media coverage – to get cruise operators to discuss safety concerns and make promises to improve safety policies or even address the concerns of the public or maritime safety organizations.

Unfortunately, cruise ship safety isn’t one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” matters. Cruise lines shouldn’t wait until someone is seriously injured, assaulted, robbed, or killed in order to make improvements to their safety policies. If there is even the slightest chance that an accident or crime may occur due to a particular cruise ship’s maintenance conditions or the line’s overall safety policies, the issue should be addressed immediately. Sadly, this has not been the case, and hopefully, next week’s hearing will touch upon this critical concern.

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Life saver Last year around this time, the cruise industry was receiving a lot of negative attention following the Carnival Triumph fire in February, 2013, the Costa Concordia crash in January, 2012, and not to mention, a host of other cruise ship accidents and crimes. Though the cruise industry has never been 100 percent free of turmoil, the past few years have been wrought with an uncharacteristically large number of incidents involving passenger injuries, sexual assaults, overboard accidents, and deaths, along with several accounts of mechanical malfunctions, cruise operator negligence and crew member misconduct.

And while the cruise industry claimed several times it would improve safety features, new accidents and crimes have continually occurred and the industry had failed to provide any tangible evidence showing it had made good on the promise to improve safety. This prompted U.S. Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to call a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on July 24, 2013 so the issues stemming from a lack of safety within the cruise industry could be addressed. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly online and provided shocking statistics regarding the discrepancy between cruise ship crimes and accidents and actual crime and accident reporting.

Several industry experts and notable figures testified during the hearing, including the “Cruise Junkie”, Professor Ross Klein. Prof. Klein’s website, cruisejunkie.com, offers statistics and the latest news on maritime accidents, environmental issues, illness outbreaks, and other incidents at sea or in port. During the hearing, he shared his research, explaining that in 2013 alone, the cruise ship industry experienced 2 collisions, 2 passenger bumps, 3 groundings, 5 cruise ship fires, 8 failed health U.S. inspections, 10 cancelled port calls and/or itinerary changes, 16 delayed embarkations/disembarkations, and 19 mechanical issues.

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Costa CruisesAre cruise ships safe? That’s a question each maritime injury lawyer at our firm is often asked. As a general rule, the answer is yes, cruises are safe! Cruising is one of the most popular – and convenient – ways to travel for a host of reasons. But unfortunately people have come to have false expectations regarding cruise safety. Most people think: Not only do you have everything you could possibly need at your fingertips, including food, alcohol and entertainment, but you also don’t have to worry about transportation to and from a hotel to a site or driving intoxicated, or any kind of accident… right? WRONG.

Though many would like to believe cruise travel is safe, in many ways, it can be dangerous. Though crime rates in popular cruise destination ports like Roatan Island, the Bahamas and Belize are increasing at alarming rates, the lack of safety is most often a result of the cruise industry’s failure to incorporate innovative equipment and policies that would prevent accidents and crimes from happening in the first place.

In Part 1 of our blog, we discussed two of the world’s most highly publicized cruise accidents: the Costa Concordia tragedy in 2012 and the Carnival Triumph fire of 2013. Though not the first two cruise accidents in history, these two incidents received so much media attention, it lead to the stark realization that there’s a whole world of safety violations and seemingly negligent practices within the cruise industry that the public rarely gets to see.

Not only have cruise lines failed to adopt state-of-the-art technology that would aid in the detection of accidents and crimes, but lines have also failed to properly train crew members on how to effectively handle emergency situations. Moreover, when an accident or crime does occur, cruise lines literally do everything they can to avoid compensating passengers for their pain and suffering and financial hardships.

A new cruise accident has once again highlighted this consistent lack of shipboard safety and lack of passenger rights consideration across the industry. A few days ago, another Costa ship, the Costa Deliziosa, suffered a power failure and blackout in Valencia, Spain, which caused the vessel’s electrical systems to shut down. Though power and main services were restored after a few hours, we have to admit, we were on the edges of our seats for quite a while. Given Costa’s accident history – and Carnival Corp.’s in general – we were a bit skeptical about the ship being repaired within a prudent amount of time. However, we were not only pleasantly surprised to learn that ship was quickly repaired, but that Costa made the decision to keep the ship in Spain until the repairs were made, instead of attempting to sail back and risk further damage to the vessel, which could potentially leaving passengers stranded at sea, similar to the Triumph incident.

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Costa CruisesIt’s been over two years since the Costa Concordia capsized near the coast of Giglio, Italy, leaving 32 people dead and hundreds injured. The Concordia tragedy will forever go down in history as one of the pivotal moments in cruise industry history because it brought to light a very real, but once very concealed reality – the fact that cruise lines don’t always follow maritime safety regulations.

The Concordia capsized because of one man’s decision (and his company allowing the decision to occur) to go against the ship’s planned itinerary, Capt. Francesco Schettino. Schettino made a last minute decision to bring the vessel close to shore in a maneuver known as a salute (which had similarly been performed in the past and the cruise line was aware of the manuever). This, in turn, caused the Concordia to crash into a large rock and become damaged. What happened next was even more shocking. Survivors recount how crew members were entirely unprepared to handle an emergency situation. Instead of helping passengers remain calm and evacuate in as much of an orderly manner as possible, victims explained crew members were scrambling around, unable to communicate with one another and making the evacuation procedure nothing short of a nightmare.

In the wake of the Costa Concordia accident, another cruise ship debacle caught the world’s attention, the Carnival Triumph fire. The Triumph made headlines not just because of the fire, but because the ship had no emergency backup generators, which caused over 3,000 passengers to suffer amidst deplorable shipboard conditions, including overflowing sewage, meager food provisions and non-working toilets. In this day and age, when cruise ships are built with the most innovative features and fully loaded with every entertainment option under the sun, it’s hard to believe that of all things a cruise company would fail to equip its ships with, it would be backup generators. Cruise ships these days are practically expected to fly, let alone do something as basic as, say, keep running after a mechanical issue. Many people have backup generators at home in case of an emergency.

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Swim at your own riskIn Part 1 of our blog, our cruise lawyers discussed the ever-growing, yet ever-ignored need for trained lifeguards onboard cruise ships. We talked about how an Orlando-based news station reported on the staggering number of children who have fallen prey to drowning and near-drowning accidents onboard cruise ships, including Qwentyn Hunter, a six-year-old boy who died after drowning in a Carnival Cruise Line pool last year.

Qwentyn was one of four children who died last year after drowning in cruise ship pools. But despite these horrific statistics – and truth be told just one child drowning death is appalling enough – most cruise lines do not employ lifeguards to keep watch over passengers and prevent these perilous situations.

When confronted with the question of why lifeguards aren’t employed on ships, many cruise offer a rebuttal. Some might argue that it’s up to the parents to watch for their children’s wellbeing, while others insist that having sporadic and inconspicuous signs near the pool areas warning passengers to “swim at their own risk” is more than adequate contribution on their part to maintain onboard safety. But the fact of the matter is that children aren’t the only ones who can suffer a drowning or near-drowning accident while on a cruise vacation; adults can be victims as well.

Last year, our firm reported on the death of 1985 MOVE bombing survivor Michael Ward , better known as “Birdie Africa”. Ward, a 41-year-old man, died after drowning in a Carnival Cruise ship pool last September. Though not many details were revealed pertaining to the circumstances of the accident, this terrible drowning goes to show that just about anyone can fall victim to a drowning onboard a cruise ship.

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lifeguardIt’s an issue our cruise lawyers have discussed time and time again, yet one which has yet to be addressed. An issue that is widespread in the cruise industry, but one which perpetually gets ignored. Lifeguards – or lack thereof. Though one might imagine that all cruise ships should employ trained lifeguards, seeing as the nature of a cruise vacation centers around water, the dire truth is that only a handful of cruise ships actually do.

Believe it or not, cruise passenger drownings are more common than anyone might think. And these drowning aren’t happening due to overboard accidents; they are happening right onboard the cruise ships in pools and hot tubs.

A special aired on WKMG Local 6 (ClickOrlando) discussed the frightening truth of cruise ship drownings, especially accidents involving children. The news station interviewed the parents of one child who drowned onboard the Carnival Victory, six-year-old Qwentyn Hunter. Qwentyn was surrounded by his family when the accident occurred, which further demonstrates the need for trained lifeguards to watch over passengers in pool areas at all times.

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Cruise ship medical facilitiesIn Part 1 of What You Should Know About Cruise Ship Medical Facilities, we presented a very frightening, but very possible scenario involving a cruise passenger who went into anaphylaxis after consuming an alcoholic beverage with a nut ingredient. The passenger was not informed of the ingredients in the drink prior to consuming the cocktail, and began experiencing an extreme allergic reaction a few minutes out. Though the passenger, who was well aware of their allergies, came equipped with an epinephrine pen (EpiPen) in case of emergencies, it was left behind as the victim relaxed on the Lido deck. After seeing the passenger’s reaction, crew members transported the victim to the ship’s medical quarters, where an epinephrine shot was administered. Unfortunately, too much time had elapsed and even with the shot, the passenger died.

This hypothetical passenger shares a fate similar to many who have sailed aboard cruise ships and fallen gravely ill or succumbed to life-threatening injuries. Though accidents can and do happen, it’s impossible to turn away from the fact that many accidents and illnesses on the high seas end in fatalities. Why does this happen?

For one, many people who suffer a medical emergency on a cruise ship do not obtain the treatment they need in time. Heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis, and allergic reactions can be fatal, but have a much greater chance of being surpassed if superior medical treatment is attained immediately. Yet, cruise passengers often are not rushed to sick bay or are not rushed off the ship to the nearest hospital.

But aside from the time aspect, health emergencies that transpire on cruise ships often become fatal because the ship itself is extremely ill-equipped to handle little more than a common cold, headache or minor scrape. In an age when over 3,000 people can easily sail aboard one ship to some of the most remote and places where hospitals aren’t even found, it’s hard to believe that cruise lines haven’t started equipping vessels with urgent care units.

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doctorLet’s pretend you’re right in the middle of sailing the high seas on an exciting cruise vacation. You’re out on the Lido deck, working on your tan and sipping on an unidentified, yet oh so tasty tropical cocktail your server referred to as the “Signature Drink of the Day”. A smile begins to sweep across your face as the rhythmic sounds of Calypso music play in the background. Taking a deep breath, you lay back and close your eyes, letting the cool salty breeze drift you into pure bliss.

But just as quickly as you slipped into relaxation mode, your downtime was rudely interrupted by the realization that you’ve developed a tickle in your throat. You take a big gulp of your drink and chock it up to the cigarette smokers a few feet away from you. But the tickle quickly escalates into a raging sore throat. Your palms begin to itch and you suddenly have trouble breathing. But you’re no stranger to these symptoms. You know exactly what’s happening. As you start to panic, you look down at your drink and it dawns on you – that mystery drink isn’t all that much of a mystery anymore. Gasping for air, you run toward the first cocktail waiter you see and somehow manage to ask him to tell you what’s in the drink. But he doesn’t know, and seeing the urgency in your actions, turns around and asks for the bartender’s help. The clock is ticking.

As the bartender is running through the list of ingredients, you’re worst fears are confirmed – there’s Peanut Rum Crème in the drink….and you are deathly allergic to peanuts. You are going into anaphylactic shock. You brought an EpiPen, but it’s back in your cabin. You weren’t planning on eating anything containing nuts, so why would you bring it to the Lido deck? Who would have ever imagined a cruise ship would serve a drink with peanuts without informing anyone, when it’s one of the world’s most common allergens?

As the allergic reaction intensifies, frightened crew members rush you to the medical facility on board the ship. The doctor gives you a dose of epinephrine right away, but you do not feel relief. Too much time passed. You need serious medical attention right now. Unfortunately, you won’t be getting it.

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doctorIf you’ve noticed an increase in the number of cruise passenger injuries and deaths, you’re not alone. Our maritime lawyers worry constantly about the ever-increasing rate at which cruise travelers are becoming exposed to life-threatening situations. It’s natural that with the growing size of ships and the larger number of passengers they accommodate, accidents would be much more likely to occur. But at the same time, cruise lines have done nothing to improve onboard medical facilities or facilitate the transport of seriously ill or injured passengers to the nearest land-based hospital.

In our last blog, Sick at Sea? Don’t Expect Much Help from Cruise Lines, we provided an inside look into what passengers requiring medical treatment during their cruise vacation can expect. In all honesty, they shouldn’t expect much. Though not for lack of space, cruise ships are not equipped with extensive emergency medical facilities, nor are all ship doctors even properly trained to treat serious or life-threatening illnesses and injuries. If a passenger needs emergency treatment right away, they might not even get approved for an air medevac, and may suffer serious – if not fatal – complications as a result.

Even when a cruise passenger does obtain treatment, whether for a larger health issue or for a minor injury, they can expect to pay an arm and a leg for it. Health insurance isn’t usually accepted onboard ships, which means that anyone needing medical attention, even if it’s just for sea sickness, will be paying full-price out-of-pocket costs.

But while there are times when emergencies strike without any foreseeable cause, there are many things cruise passengers can do to minimize their risk of getting sick or hurt on the high seas, and reduce their chances of having to pay the exorbitant cost of onboard medical care. Let’s explore these options.

 

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