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Holland America Cruise Line is Strictly Liability for Assaults on Passengers by Crewmembers

News broke yesterday of a horrific physical and sexual assault of a female passenger by a crewmember aboard Holland America’s cruise vessel Nieuw Amsterdam.  The altercation allegedly began because the 31-year-old passenger offended the crewmember when he delivered breakfast to her room.  The crewmember allegedly knocked three times before the passenger acknowledged him, and then from outside the room he heard a woman’s voice shout, “Wait a minute, son of a bitch!”  She later opened the door and the crewmember left the food.

The crewmember returned to the woman’s room later that day, but no one answered and he left.  That same evening, he sought after the woman on deck, “in order to punch her in the face for insulting him that morning.”  After realizing the location was too crowded, he left.

That night, the crewmember used his master key to enter the passenger’s room, and went onto the balcony to wait for her to return.  Upon her return, the crewmember is alleged to have attacked the woman, choking and punching her with whatever was available, including a laptop and a curling iron.  The passenger defended herself with a corkscrew.  The fight progressed to a balcony, where the crewmember is alleged to have tried to push the woman overboard.  The woman was finally able to break free, and escaped her room.  She got help from another passenger.

The crewmember then returned to his room, and told his roommate that he had killed a passenger, and to contact vessel security.  Information regarding the woman’s current condition is not currently known, but the severity of her injuries required that she be air-lifted to a hospital in Florida the next day.  Criminal charges for attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault have been filed against the crewmember.

Under maritime law, cruise vessels are strictly liable for assaults on passengers by crewmembers.  That means that in order to recover damages from the cruise line, a passenger who has been assaulted need only prove that the assault was at the hands of a crewmember and that his or her injuries were caused by the assault.  The injured passenger need not prove that the cruise line was negligent.

In Morton v. De Oliveira, 984 F.2d 289 (9th Cir. 1993), a passenger was alone in her room when a Carnival Cruise Line crewmember delivered wine and raped her.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that “a ship owner is absolutely liable for a crew member’s assault on a passenger.”  The court reasoned, “A carrier owes a duty to every passenger to protect him from insult and assault. It is a part of the contract of carriage. As long as [the injured person] was a passenger on [the cruise company’s] ship, [the cruise company] owed him a duty of absolute protection from the assaults and aggressions of its servants, and the rule is well nigh universal that the carrier cannot plead as a defense that the servant acted outside the scope of his employment.”  And, “it is a widely adopted rule that common carriers owe such an absolute duty to their passengers.”  Id., citing,  St. Michelle v. Catania, 250 A.2d 874, 876-78 (Md. 1969) (carrier vicariously liable for assaults committed by employees even outside their employment during the contract for transportation); Whittle v. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 306 S.C. 163, 410 S.E.2d 575, 575 (S.C. Ct. App. 1991) (same); Nazareth v. Herndon Ambulance Serv., Inc., 467 So. 2d 1076, 1078-81 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.) (same), review denied, 478 So. 2d 53 (Fla. 1985).

Courts in other jurisdictions have also found that Cruise Lines are strictly liable for assaults on passengers by crewmembers.  See Doe v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 394 F.3d 891, 912 (11th Cir. 2004); Muratore v. M/S Scotia Prince, 845 F.2d 347 (1st Cir. 1988).

Under the cruise ticket contract, passengers who are assaulted by crewmembers aboard Holland America vessels must file suit in federal court in Seattle within one year of the assault, and must notify Holland America within six months of the assault.  The part of the ticket contract requiring that suit be filed in Seattle federal court is called a “forum selection clause.”  Only a lawyer admitted to practice in federal court in Seattle may file suit for you.  The lawyers at Kraft Davies, PLLC, have handled many claims against Holland America Line, and have experience with this type of case.  If you or someone you know has been assaulted aboard a Holland America vessel, call today and the lawyers at Kraft Davies, PLLC, are available to talk to you about your rights.