Maritime Cases and Discussion of Legal Rights
Discussion of maritime
cases and legal issues
regarding passengers and crew employees.
What Is The "Passenger Ticket" and Why Should I Care?
Many passengers fail to appreciate that their passenger ticket contains not only their
itinerary, but constitutes the legally binding "contract of carriage" with the
All passenger tickets contain provisions which passengers must read and understand in
order to protect their legal rights after they have been injured during a cruise.
The tickets always contain certain pre-conditions to filing suit, such as requiring
passengers to notify the cruise line in writing of their intent to assert a claim. This
time period is always very short - usually six months for personal injuries. If you
fail to send a letter to the cruise line within this period, and then find out that your
injury is more serious than you realized, you are out of luck.
The tickets also contain a very short limitations period in which the lawsuit must be
filed (usually one year), whereas the typical statute of limitations in Florida for
personal injuries is four years. The cruise lines also require that passenger
lawsuits must be filed in a certain state or city, often Miami, Florida, even though
the passenger purchased the ticket in another state or lives thousands of miles away in a
foreign country. These contractual requirements are usually considered by the courts to be
It is very important for passengers to carefully read all of the ticket language, and
to properly assert their claims within the strict limitations contained in the
What Rights Does The Passenger Ticket Provide Me?
The ticket is filled with disclaimers, limitations, and restrictions in favor of the
cruise line - but it contains virtually no statement of the rights of passengers. For
example, there is no mention of the duties owed by the cruise lines to passengers, or the
legal remedies available to fare paying passengers if they are injured on the cruise ship.
Indeed, in reading the ticket, a passenger unfamiliar with maritime law may conclude that
he or she have no contractual rights whatsoever. This is incorrect.
In Nadeau v. Costley, 634 So. 2d 649 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994), the Fourth
District Court of Appeal rejected a cruise lines argument that the only theory of
liability available to an injured passenger is negligence. The Court held that "...
early maritime cases clearly recognize a breach of contract action against the
carrier." 634 So.2d at 653 This holding is consistent with the well established rule
that all passenger contracts have certain implied duties of reasonable care owed to
passengers. Pacific S.S. Co. v. Sutton, 7 F2.d 579 (9th Cir. 1925).
In Carlisle v Ulysses Line Ltd., 475 So. 2d 248 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1985),
the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida held that negligence by a cruise line
constitutes a breach of the contract of carriage. In other words, a cruise line owes all
passengers the duty of acting reasonably and not causing them harm. If the cruise line
acts unreasonably and injures you, it has failed to meet its obligation of using
reasonable care which is implied by law in the passenger ticket.
The Third Districts holding in Carlisle is consistent with Florida law
regarding this issue. Colhoun v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 265 So.2d 18 (Fla.1972); Butts
v. County of Dade, 178 So.2d 592, 593 (Fla. 3d DCA 1965). Florida law, in turn, is
consistent with maritime cases since the turn of the century. The Steamship City of
Panama v. Phelps, 101 U.S. 453, 463, 25 L.Ed. 1061, 1065 (1880); Silverman v.
Bermuda & West Indies S.S. Co., 74 F.2d 683 (2d Cir.1935).
Florida law also recognizes a breach of contract action against a cruise line when the
cause of action is predicated upon a wrongful intentional act (such as a physical assault
or a sexual battery) by a member of the ship's crew on passengers. Nadeau v. Costley,
634 So. 2d 649 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994); Commodore Cruise Line, Ltd. v. Kormendi,
344 So.2d 896 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1977), cert. denied, 352 So.2d 172 (Fla.1977). All of these
cases establish that passenger contracts contain implied duties of reasonable care owed to
The Cruise Lines' Response?
Many cruise lines attempt to avoid their contractual obligations to passengers by
moving to dismiss the passenger's breach of contract claims once suit is filed. The
usual tactic is for the cruise line to refer to the case of Hass v. Carnival Cruise
Lines, Inc., 1986 A.M.C. 1846 (S.D. Fla. 1986) for the proposition that passengers
cannot seek compensation for breach of contract. It is important for passengers or
attorneys not familiar with maritime law to be prepared for this argument.
The Court in Hass entertained an unopposed motion for summary
judgment. In other words, the passenger's attorney did not even object to the cruise
line's argument! Moreover, the Court never held that a passenger cannot sue for
breach of contract. The Courts language was quite specific, holding that a passenger
could not allege a "guarantee of safe passage" unless such language promising
such a specific "guarantee" was found in the contract.
It appears that the passenger's attorney in Hass was attempting to argue a
hybrid theory of unseaworthiness/breach of contract. The doctrine of
unseaworthiness, of course, is a theory of liability reserved for maritime employees, not
passengers, against the owner or operator of a vessel on which they work.
In Hass, there was also no indication that the passenger sued for implied
breach of contract due to the cruise liness failure to use reasonable care, which
exists in all passenger contracts. In addition, the Florida Fourth District Court of
Appeal in Nadeau v. Costley, 634 So. 2d 649 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994),
expressly rejected this case as inconsistent with the case law of Florida and other
jurisdictions which hold that passenger tickets contain an implied duty of care.
Things to Remember
The conclusions from this month's topic?
If you are a passenger injured on a cruise ship, read your ticket carefully. Be sure to
comply with all of the legal requirements listed therein, particularly the short notice
and filing provisions.
If you lost or misplaced your ticket, ask the cruise line's risk management department
to mail or fax you a copy of all of the language on their standard ticket.
You must send a letter to the cruise line shortly after the cruise (usually within six
months), advising the cruise line that you intend to assert a claim for your injuries.
If you decide not to file suit, there is no obligation to proceed - all you have
lost is a thirty-three cent stamp. But if you fail to send the letter timely, you have
lost all of your legal rights. Suit must be filed within one year of your
If you file suit, remember that the cruise line owes you the implied contractual duty
of reasonable care - meaning no unreasonable dangers such as slippery decks, defective
ladders, contaminated food or beverages, or assaults by crew members.
And don't be surprised - or let the Judge be fooled - when the cruise line brings a
copy of the Hass case to court and asks the Judge to throw your case