Cruises offer a variety of activities onboard and can be an inexpensive way to visit a handful of exotic locales in a short period of time. Still, taking a cruise is not without risk.
While the cruise line is responsible for its own acts of negligence and its employees’ negligence, other actors associated with, but not directly employed by a cruise line can negligently cause a passenger injury. Such cases frequently arise in the context of shore excursions. Cruise lines often advertise these excursions on the cruise line’s own website, promotional material, at desks aboard the ship itself, and while selling tickets directly to their passengers. The excursions enable passengers to engage in activities such as ATV tours, dolphin encounters, and scuba diving.
However, suing the cruise line, the excursion operator, or both for injuries incurred on a shore excursion is an uphill battle. These independent contractors may be uninsured or underinsured. Moreover, many excursion entities are incorporated in the country of their principal place of business, and as such are likely not subject to the jurisdiction of US courts.
While recovery against the cruise line itself might not be barred at a US court’s doors, it is notoriously hard to recover from the cruise line for an excursion operator’s negligence. Although cruise lines have a continuing duty of reasonable care to passengers, once a passenger leaves the ship, a cruise line “only owes its passengers a duty to warn of known dangers in places where passengers are invited or reasonably expected to visit.” Moseley v. Carnival Corp., No. 13–20416–CIV, 2013 WL 5913833, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 31, 2013). Courts interpret this duty narrowly. In one example, a passenger was robbed at gunpoint in Nassau while on a Segway tour. Approximately one month before the incident, a group of passengers on a defendant-sponsored Nassau excursion was also robbed at gunpoint. Although the complaint alleged the cruise line had actual knowledge of crimes against tourists in Nassau, the court granted the cruise line’s motion to dismiss, holding the allegations were insufficient to trigger the duty to warn.
Further, theories of agency between the cruise line and the excursion operator (to hold the cruise line liable for the operator’s negligence) can be hard to plead as well as prove. To prove actual agency, a plaintiff generally must show: (1) the principal’s acknowledgment that the agent will act for it; (2) the agent’s acceptance of the undertaking; and (3) the principal’s control over the agent’s actions. Where there is a written agreement between a cruise line and excursion operator, the agreement typically will make clear that the operator is an independent contractor and not an agent of the cruise line. Proving apparent agency is not always easy either, but a pleading might survive a motion to dismiss if allegations with respect to the way the excursions were marketed, sold, charged, and paid for through the cruise line provide a sufficient factual basis to find that a passenger could believe that an excursion entity was the cruise line’s agent.
Cruises are a popular vacation option; shore excursions, however, can be risky as accidents happen and cruise lines typically disclaim liability. Thus, participants should be aware of the risks and hurdles to recovery involved when things do not go as planned.