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Cruise Ship Crew Member Injury

image - 6 cruise ship crew members in white uniforms and chef hats in kitchen preparing foodPassengers on cruise lines rarely see the number of crew that it takes to support a typical cruise ship. Cruise ship crew members work long hours, and often in unsafe conditions. Injuries are not uncommon, as ships can be a dangerous work environment. Crew members live in cramped quarters that sometimes pose hazardous risks to their health. They are also tasked with working in conditions that can and do result in serious injuries.

Illnesses such as Norovirus are commonly contracted on cruise ships, as well. Norovirus is highly contagious and results in nausea and vomiting. Crew members for most cruise ships come from all over the world. Unfortunately, some do carry communicable diseases. Cramped crew quarters on cruise ships carry the risk of quickly spreading viral and bacterial illnesses.

Crew members often hesitate to report injuries or illnesses for fear of retribution either from their immediate supervisor, or the cruise line itself. The fear of retribution creates a culture of silence, and that same culture continues to feed the cycle of injuries. When a crew member seeks damages from a cruise line after an injury, he or she is making it safer for fellow crew members in the long run.

Cruise ships also have an unsavory practice of forcing crew members to seek medical care from unqualified doctors in foreign ports. This substandard care often leads to a worsening of the condition and can result in life-threatening situations. The practice of forcing crew members to seek medical care from unqualified or under-qualified doctors puts crew members at risk of not having their illness or injury properly diagnosed and treated. These doctors, because the cruise line pays them, often attempt to force crew members back to work before they are physically ready.

Crew members need to know that they are entitled to fair treatment and have rights and protections under the law. The law that commonly protects workers on seagoing vessels is the Jones Act. The Jones Act places strict liability on the cruise line for federally mandated safety regulations. If a cruise line is in violation of these regulations, you may be entitled to full compensation, including punitive damages, regardless of any fault you may have had in the accident.  The Jones Act also offers protection for crew members who become ill while in service to the vessel.

The Jones Act was enacted in 1920 to protect seaman. The initial purpose was to continue to provide food, shelter, and basic necessities while onboard a vessel. It has since come to include other forms of relief, such as maintenance and cure. Maintenance and Cure are two critical components of the Jones Act:

  • Maintenance—Courts have steadily increased the amount of maintenance, and the amount varies depending on the area you live and your actual expenses. Maintenance is financial support paid for each day from your injury until you reach your maximum medical improvement. Maximum medical improvement means that you have reached the end of your recovery process. Other laws provide for compensation if you have sustained any form of physical disability.
  • Cure—provides the right to complete and competent medical coverage incurred while at sea.

To qualify for maintenance and cure, a crew member must qualify as a “seaman” under the Jones Act. To be a seaman, a crew member must meet the following criteria:

  • Contributes to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of the mission of the vessel
  • Performs work of such nature and duration that demonstrates they are a member of the crew
  • If a crew member spends 30% or more of their time working in some capacity while the vessel is in navigation, they qualify as a seaman

There are laws outside The Jones Act that also impact your ability to receive fair compensation for your injuries or illness while at sea. Some cruise lines have crew members sign waivers specifically releasing them from liability under the Jones Act. If you signed such a waiver, or do not remember if you signed a waiver, you can still receive monetary compensation and medical coverage for your injury.

Crew members may also seek relief under U.S. Maritime law for unseaworthy claims. These claims arise when the vessel experiences:

  • A malfunction of equipment
  • Mechanical failures
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Inadequate safety equipment
  • Inadequate training in safety for crew members

The long hours and arduous working conditions for crew members on a cruise line frequently lead to injuries that can range from minor to life-threatening. Common injuries sustained:

  • Burns
  • Sprains and strains
  • Broken bones
  • Back injuries—these can be caused by slip and falls, repetitive lifting, and unsafe working conditions.
  • Repetitive motion injuries—caused by repeated lifting and carrying of objects
  • Slip and fall injuries—caused by unsafe stairs, decks, and floors. These injuries can range from minor to catastrophic.
  • Injuries from fights and assaults—cruise lines are liable for crew members who are assaulted by passengers or fellow crew members. Types of assault can, and do, include sexual assault. The cruise line should provide a safe living space for crew members while at sea, but this is not always the case.

If you are a crew member for a crew line and experience an injury, knowing what to do in the immediate aftermath can significantly increase your chances of receiving the compensation that you deserve.  The following steps should be taken immediately after an injury:

  • File a written report with the cruise line detailing your injury
  • Request medical help right away, even if you are unsure of the extent of your injuries.
  • Request your full medical record from any doctor, whether on ship or land, that you see for your illness or injury.
  • Collect the information of any witnesses to the incident. If other crew members or passengers witnessed what happened, request and record their contact information if possible.
  • Write down the date, time, circumstances, and the exact location where the injury occurred.
  • Take photos of the conditions where your injury occurred, preferably with a date and time stamp, if possible.
  • Do not return to work while injured. If your supervisor tries to force your return to work before you have fully recovered, refuse on the grounds that you do not want to risk further injury. Request that your refusal to work due to your injury be documented and ask for a copy of the documentation.
  • Contact an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible.

The Jones Act and U.S. Maritime law provide a number of remedies and protections for those who work on cruise ships. You can receive fair compensation for any loss of wages, but you may also be entitled to additional money for pain and suffering if negligence on the part of the cruise line contributed to your injury. If parts of your claim are ambiguous or unclear, maintenance and cure laws clearly state that the resolution favors the seaman.

Do not enter into negotiations directly with the cruise line. The Jones Act and other federal maritime laws are complex. You should seek legal representation from a firm experienced in dealing with cases involving the Jones Act. You need adequate counsel to help hold the cruise line accountable. The attorneys at The Injury Firm are experienced with maritime law and helping cruise ship crew members receive maintenance, cure and all other compensation they deserve. Your consultation is free, so contact them as soon as possible after your injury: 954-951-0000.

The Injury Firm

1608 East Commercial Blvd. 
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334

Phone (954) 951-0000
Fax: (954) 951-1000


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