You May Be “Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’ ”!

Did you read and understand the cruise contract?

With this snowy and icy weather, we envision what it would be like to be in sunny, warm, and beautiful climate.

One of the best ways to vacation is on a cruise ship and especially in the Caribbean! Cruise ships provide all-inclusive room, food (but not free alcohol), recreation, entertainment, relaxation, leisure activities, sports, rock climbing, dancing, instructional programs including wine tasting and food preparation, and a host of other pastimes.

If you were to obtain the above services at a resort, it would cost between 50% and 100% more than the cost of the cruise, making value one of the key considerations when selecting a cruise vacation.

Few passengers, however, ever read the cruise contract ( often called the ‘’ Cruise/ Cruise Tour Ticket Contract’’. I have been reading them for years and each year there are more onerous conditions wherein the passenger has very limited rights. As a passenger, it would be very difficult to modify the cruise contract. Cruise companies take a " Take it or Leave it" position and you have very little leverage to modify any of the terms or conditions.

Typically, the laws of the state in which the cruise company has its principal office govern the contract. This article is not providing legal advice because I am licensed only in Maryland. I can advise individuals only with regard to events that occur in Maryland. We may, however, be able to obtain an attorney for you in another jurisdiction at a moderate cost. To obtain legal advice you'll need to contact a licensed attorney in the express state in the contract.

Contract provisions that the courts consider too onerous may be modified by the court in the agreed state or jurisdiction. I wouldn't count on, for example, that a Florida Court would consider the contract modifiable, avoidable, or void. You would need to be advised on that issue by a Florida attorney or, depending on the laws of the agreed jurisdiction of the contract, by someone who is knowledgeable of case law and has experience with cases arising out of a cruise. It is also possible that international law may apply as well.

Here are examples of terms and conditions that govern a cruise contract, resulting in limited opportunities for the passenger to be compensated for wrongdoings, often considered negligent acts, by the cruise ship personnel and, occasionally, intentional acts performed by cruise members against the passenger.

  1. The contract, whether signed or not, is considered part of the ticket and enforceable.

  2. Baggage Liability- $300 per passenger is the typical limit due to loss or damage of the passenger’s property. You may obtain additional coverage up to $5000 by completing a notice to the cruise company and paying 5% of the declared value of the property. That 5% of the value is paid as a one-time premium. In this situation, the cost to the passenger is as follows: $300 is subtracted from the $5000 which equals $4700. Then the $4700 is multiplied by 5% equaling a one-time premium of $235.00. You need to check with your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to determine if your coverage deals with loss of property and if the coverage goes beyond either your state of residence or the geographical limits of Maryland, as an example. Many homeowner or rental policies have limitations regarding geographical limitations. Here you may be able to purchase additional coverage for damage to property, jewelry, and other items that you bring on the cruise from the travel agent who books your cruise. What is covered or not covered requires an effort on your part and you need to be diligent about being sure you understand the coverages and non-coverage.

  3. Medical Care- The contracts typically have warnings that deal with practical problems of being at sea or in countries where the quality and availability of medical care has inherent limitations. There are also warnings that the physicians and medical personnel aboard ship or in a port are independent contractors and therefore a cause of action may be limited to the actual provider ie., the medical providers. Warnings may prevent compensation for injuries and often the cruise ship assumes no liability to the passenger for delay, misdiagnosis, and/or maltreatment of the passenger. Despite the limitations however, cruise companies may provide compensation.

    For seniors who have Medicare medical coverage, often your Medicare and supplemental insurance do not pay for transportation for medical evacuation. This means if you are in the Caribbean, for instance on the island of Martinique and you need to be moved/transported by helicopter/air to your home town, the cost could easily be near or exceed $100,000. You need to check with your own health insurance carrier and obtain supplemental health insurance for a broad range of medical issues. Again, be careful to understand the coverage that you both need and want. You may purchase the additional coverage at the time you book your cruise.

  4. Shore excursions- Passengers must be aware that the cruise ship has assumed no liability to passengers for the wrongdoings of the transportation, tour, or related service providers, in part because these providers are independent contractors.

  5. Notice of a Claim against the Cruise Ship has many limitations, including but not limited to:

    1. Notice of the claim must be made within 6 months of the injury, death, or illness of a passenger and a lawsuit must be filed within 1 year of the above issues, it must have an Arbitration Panel review the claim, and it must be filed in the specific jurisdiction that is stated in the contract. Also, the contract typically prohibits jury trials.

    2. There are financial limitations of $70,000 resulting from death or personal injury of the passenger. This does not mean a cruise company does not pay passengers more than the expressed limitation.

  6. Supplemental Charges – the cruise ship may impose a supplemental charge for unanticipated occurrences including the increase in the price of fuel.

  7. There are a myriad of cancellation fees based on the length of time before cancelling occurs if the passenger terminates the contract. The closer to the date of sailing, the greater the penalty.

The purpose of this article is to inform potential passengers of the ‘fine-print’ in the cruise contract when undertaking a cruise vacation. Because the contract places limitations on your rights, that does not mean the contract limitations will be enforced by the cruise company. Specific circumstances require an investigation of the facts and, because some of the situations involve more than one law being applied, you need representation by a qualified attorney or team of attorneys.

We can direct you to attorneys that may be able to assist you at a moderate cost. Do not settle a matter without the assistance of an attorney.

Fred Antenberg is attorney licensed to practice law in Maryland. He may be able to connect you with an attorney who has knowledge in the jurisdictions that are applicable to your need.

Call Fred at 410 730 4404.