Can sick cruise ship passengers sue their cruise lines?

The cruise industry has suffered a great deal in recent years. Sometimes due to reckless behavior, sometimes due to negligent behavior and sometimes due to no identifiable fault on the part of the liners, passengers have been suffering cruise ship injuries, cruise-related illnesses and have been stranded at sea on a number of recent occasions.

Most recently, over 300 passengers and crew aboard a cruise ship owned by the Royal Caribbean line fell very ill during what should have been a relaxing trip. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illness afflicting these patients was norovirus. Norovirus is highly contagious and generally spreads when one comes in contact with a contaminated surface, an infected person and/or contaminated food.

While norovirus is not a potentially fatal disease, it is deeply unpleasant. Passengers and crew aboard the Royal Caribbean ship experienced severe gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of the virus, including diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. Many passengers are likely outraged that they experienced this illness aboard the ship. Yet it is not completely clear whether or not they will be able to sue the line successfully in regards to the harm they suffered onboard.

Cruise operators are bound by something called the Kermarec rule. This rule provides that cruise liners must provide their passengers with a reasonable level of care. In this Royal Caribbean case and others like it, passengers might sue successfully if the liner did not take all reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of contagious virus outbreaks.

Source: Findlaw, “Cruise Ship Sickness: Can Passengers Sue?” Aditi Mukherji, Jan. 27, 2014


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