Can I Sue A Cruise Line for my Holiday from Hell?

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Can I wait a few months to pursue a personal injury claim?”


Apparently U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is calling for federal investigations into the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that steered into a forecast storm in the Atlantic Ocean this February.

Cruise Ship Charlotte Injury Lawyer Mecklenburg Accident AttorneyAlthough no injuries were reported, the experience sounds like a harrowing one. News reports detail passenger’s recounts of riding out the storm, which had 30-foot waves and forced guests into their cabins for hours while their belongings crashed about and the wind howled. Passengers describe panic attacks, uttered prayers and the sounds of shattering glass.

But what are these passengers’ chances of recovering for negligent infliction of emotional distress and other claims against the cruise line?

Besides bad weather, we have all heard the horror stories of the number of things that can, and do, go wrong on cruise ships.

A couple of years prior, Carnival made headlines internationally when over 3,000 of its Carnival Triumph passengers were stranded in the Gulf of Mexico sans toilets for five days.

Another recent case could mislead consumers about the ease with which one can successfully sue a cruise line.

At the end of last year, a U.S. District Court jury in Seattle caught people’s attention for awarding $21.5 million in damages to a man who suffered a minor traumatic brain injury when a sliding-glass door on a Holland America cruise ship hit him. This is one of the largest verdicts in the federal court’s recent memory, and the cruise line has said it will appeal. A whopping $16.5 million of the verdict took the form of punitive damages, and the jury awarded the 61-year-old plaintiff an additional $5 million for pain, suffering and emotional distress, both past and future.

The plaintiff’s counsel ventured after the trial that one reason the punitive verdict was so high was because they were able to show that there were numerous similar sliding-door incidents that had happened on Holland America ships in the past three years, two of which resulted passengers breaking their hips. In those cases, Holland America tried to blame the plaintiffs for their injuries, which they also did in the recent case. Such behavior is of the type the court wants to deter away from.

However, this type and amount of verdict is not the norm. In fact, bring a cruise line into court at all can be extremely difficult.


What can make suing a cruise line so difficult?

  • The “fine print”: Whether or not you can even sue a cruise line for an experience on one of their vessels can depend on the paperwork you signed when you purchased your ticket.
    • American courts hold that ship operators and owners cannot in their fine print prohibit passengers from suing them in class-action suits.
      • However, many major cruise lines are incorporated outside of the United States (Carnival Cruise Line, for example, is incorporated partly in Great Britain and partly in Panama), which means they may not be subject to such restrictions.
  • Jurisdiction: By their nature, cruise ship incidents often occur in other countries’ territories and waters, meaning that the United States may not have the jurisdiction to hear a case against that cruise line.
  • A ship’s flag: Further complicating matters, the country’s flag under which a vessel is flying dictates which investigative agency will have primary control of any resulting investigations.

In the Royal Caribbean case, the cruise line gave all storm-harried customers full refunds and certificates towards a future cruise. Whether or not this will pacify the passengers into not attempting legal recourse, we’ll have to wait and see.

If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.



About the Author

Matt Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.







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