Cruise Ship Crew Member Injuries: What Are Your Rights?
Working on a cruise ship is different from other offshore jobs. While there is plenty of manual labor to be done on board, the risks of a luxury cruise liner would seem to be less intense than those of a fishing trawler or offshore oil rig. There is still real potential for workplace accidents, however, and being away from shore can make things complicated.
Potential Risks to Cruise Ship Crew
As a working member of a cruise ship crew, you have the inherent right to be kept as safe and secure as your employer can reasonably ensure. Ideally, accidents will be rare. Nevertheless, there are still a variety of possible risks you could face in this unique workplace.
Unsafe Work Areas
Just like any other workplace, a cruise ship needs to be properly organized and cleaned to minimize hazards. If a wet floor is not properly dried or shelves in the storage room are overloaded, a crew member could easily be injured in a slip, trip, or falling object accident.
It may sound like something from a fantasy novel, but piracy is a very real concern for cruise ships sailing on dangerous international waters. If your ship is boarded or attacked by pirates, you could very well find yourself threatened, held hostage, or even kidnapped. If your employer does not enforce proper security or provide sufficient emergency planning/training, your ship may be especially vulnerable to these pirates.
Other Accidents Due to Employer Negligence
Cruise lines have an obligation to protect employees and passengers by properly maintaining equipment and following legal safety requirements. If your employer fails to obey the law or allows machinery to break down and cause injuries, you may be the one suffering harm as a result of their negligence.
Relevant Laws and Rights
Everyone who works at sea on a ship or oil rig or in other offshore operations is covered by an area of law known as maritime (or “admiralty”) law. Between these laws and certain standards within the international cruise industry, crew members and passengers are given a number of important rights.
The International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights
Recently, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) developed an International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights. Included among the rights is the right to leave the ship if there are insufficient resources aboard, the right to a refund for trips canceled due to mechanical failures, and several others.
Although this document was drafted with consumer passengers in mind, the ideas behind it can still be applied to the crew members aboard any ship belonging to a member of the Cruise Lines International Association. If your cruise line is not a member of this association, you might not be given these considerations.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act is a portion of maritime law that deals with the rights of maritime workers who are injured while working at sea. As a crew member working aboard a ship on open waters, your rights fall under the jurisdiction of this act.
Two of the most important aspects of the Jones Act are known as maintenance and cure. “Cure” gives injured maritime workers the right to compensation to cover their injury-related medical bills, while “maintenance” gives them the right to compensation for related ongoing costs. This may include things like medication costs, physical therapy bills, and lost income.
How Cruise Lines Use “Flags of Convenience” to Get Away with Poor Conditions
State and federal laws hold employers to certain standards with regard to workplace conditions and employee treatment. Unfortunately, even if you’re a U.S. citizen working for a U.S. company, your employer may get around these standards by using something called a “flag of convenience.”
A flag of convenience refers to cruise lines registering their ships in foreign countries, allowing them to avoid U.S. regulations and use the other country’s standards on their ships instead. With this kind of loophole, companies can get away with poorer work conditions, lower pay, and fewer crew member rights.
The Physical, Emotional, and Financial Repercussions of Crew Member Injuries
Injuries can have serious physical, emotional, and financial effects on cruise ship crew members and their families. No matter how minor your injury may seem at the time, it’s important to recognize the ripple effect it can have on different areas of your life.
Depending on the details of the incident, you could find yourself dealing with physical harm such as the following:
- Broken or fractured bones
- Slipped disc or other back injuries
- Cuts and bruises
- Loss of limbs
- Severe illness (food poisoning, chemical exposure)
- Long-term disability
- Chronic pain
Certain injuries can also lead to recurring issues or physical limitations that make it difficult for a person to do certain types of work, drastically reducing one’s capabilities and earning power. In some cases, it can be nearly impossible to return to work in one’s established trade, resulting in a devastating loss of livelihood.
Being injured at work on a cruise ship can lead to severe emotional distress, anxiety, anger, or depression. If the accident is traumatic, a person could even develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatever the case, such difficult feelings and mental health concerns can add extra costs—not just emotionally, but financially in the form of things like therapy costs.
Other financial repercussions of crew member injuries include things like the resulting medical bills, hospitalization costs, lost income, and legal expenses. Unfortunately, the stress of the situation tends to increase as these financial burdens increase, leaving victims in a vicious and frustrating cycle.
What to Do if You’ve Been Injured at Work on a Cruise Ship
When you’ve been hurt while working on a cruise line, it can be hard to know exactly what steps to take. If you experience a workplace injury due to employer negligence, make sure you do the following:
- Address your medical needs immediately with the help of onboard first aid and/or medical staff.
- Keep a detailed record of what happened, including pictures (if possible). Make sure you write down your experience as soon as you can after your injury so that you have notes to reference later on.
- Before you talk to your insurance company, call a specialized Jones Act lawyer. An attorney can help you determine what your rights and obligations are, as well as guide you through the next steps of your process.
- Contact your insurance company (and notify your employer per their requirements), but do not make any statements that suggest you may have been at fault; insurance companies will look for any small reason to deny you coverage, and your words may be misconstrued.
Contact a Lawyer Experienced in Maritime Admiralty Law
If you’ve suffered an injury or have been denied your cruise ship employer, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. At Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P, we’re experts in maritime law and offshore accidents, including those that affect cruise ship employees.
We’ll help you determine whether or not you’ve got a case for a personal injury lawsuit, walk you through the filing process, and work with you to develop the strongest possible case. Whether your employer claims they played no role in your accident or your insurance company refuses coverage, our attorneys have the knowledge and experience needed to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Call (713) 364-0273 today for a free initial consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.