Cruise vacations present an opportunity to relax, spend time with family or friends and generally take a break from the worries and stresses of every day. Most often, destinations include exotic or tropical locales where everything seems just a little bit easier. As a result, passengers understandably lower their normal inhibitions with the expectation that the cruise ship is a safe place where everyone is just out to have a little relaxation and fun. Unfortunately, sometimes this expectation is misplaced.
With the capability to house more than 5,000 passengers along with another 1,000 crew members, modern-day cruise ships are nothing less than modern-day cities, perhaps with more fun but with many of the problems that you would find in similar populations on land. This number of people combined with naturally lowered inhibitions can produce a veritable breeding ground for violent crime. Sadly, the most common form of violent crime involves rape and sexual assault.
One recent case from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal demonstrates the dangers that passengers (particularly young and vulnerable guests) can face in these situations. In this case, a 15-year-old child who was vacationing with her grandparents encountered a group of grown men. The men proceeded to groom her for abuse by offering her alcohol and then plying her with it until she lost any capacity to object. They led her back to their private stateroom where they proceeded to viciously gang-rape her.
Tragically, this entire episode could have been prevented by crew members who apparently stood by and watched while grown men pursued this child, got her drunk and led her away to the privacy of their room. Had a single crew member stepped in, called security, notified her parents or even warned the men to back-off this whole event could have been prevented. But that’s not what happened, instead, the crew members went about their daily routines as the child was essentially kidnapped.
Not surprisingly, when confronted with the grievous errors that the crew made by failing to stand-up for their young patron, the cruise line defended itself in court by claiming it simply has no legal obligation to protect a passenger in these circumstances.
Fortunately, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the cruise line did have a duty to intervene…and along with a duty to warn passengers that this horrific type of crime has become more commonplace on today’s cruises.
While this case still has to make its way through the Court system so that a jury can determine exactly what happened, the consequences of this decision are important for cruise lines and passengers alike. The Court has now ruled that crew members who fail and refuse to take basic actions for the protection of their patrons in these circumstances violate their duty of ordinary care and can be liable for damages.
If you have been injured on a cruise ship, contact the law firm of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith PLLC to learn more about your rights and obligations.
Blog by Attorney Joshua Ferraro.