The cruise industry has been in news heavily for the better part of two weeks, following the disaster of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. Every facet of cruising has been brought to the forefront and intensely scrutinized. Among the biggest issues is the liability of cruise lines in the case of accident, injury or other emergency.
Just days ago, the announcement of a class-action lawsuit made international news. Costa Cruises and Carnival Corporation, its parent company, will be taken to court on behalf of the passengers of the ill-fated January 13 sailing of the Costa Concordia. According to the information from Codacons, the Italian consumer group organizing the suit, the lawsuit will seek to recover $160,000 for each guest. Theoretically, that would equal $500 million, if each passenger received this compensation. The lawsuit has come under fire by several maritime law experts who believe the suit will fail in court for one specific reason – the cruise ticket contract.
The cruise ticket contracts given to every passenger from the cruise line discloses what liabilities for which they are responsible. The terms of these contracts are upheld by the policies of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The often-contested portion of the contract is the maximum $70,000 a cruise line is liable to pay to a passenger, even in the case of accidental injury or death.
In regards to cruising, the cruise ticket contract is virtually an “all or nothing” deal. Passengers can’t choose which parts to accept and/or reject. Any guest that boards a cruise ship is assumed to have reviewed and accepted the terms and conditions because they’ve chosen to board. Additionally, most guests don’t receive their cruise ticket contract until after final payment of the cruise is made. Therefore, if a guest reviewed the terms and conditions, and wanted to cancel the cruise because he/she doesn’t want to sail under the provisions of the contract, he/she would face penalties for cancelling the booking because of the close proximity to the sail date.
What happened with the Costa Concordia is truly an anomaly. It is not indicative of the overall safety and security that passengers can expect to receive when cruising. The overall safety records of most cruise lines in the industry is nothing short of impeccable, which is why cruising is still arguably the safest mode of travel. However, the enormity of this situation highlights the importance of knowing exactly what terms and conditions apply. Even in the area of travel, guests need to be fully aware of what their rights and responsibilities are. If an emergency happens, full disclosure and full understanding of the process will allow individuals to know what options they have available in the aftermath. Even with the most reputable and trustworthy companies and organizations, one piece of advice will forever remain critical to follow – READ THE FINE PRINT.
Sources: CNN, New York Times, Chicago Tribune