TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IF YOU HAVE BEEN INJURED WHILE ON A CRUISE.
As a maritime attorney, I speak with many clients injured while on cruise vacations on virtually a daily basis. After evaluating their cases, I frequently encounter the same issues that reoccur in virtually every case. Those issues all involve our client’s conduct after suffering their injury. In that regard, proof of what happened, from the plaintiff’s perspective often becomes difficult because the injured client often fails to properly document and obtain witnesses or photographic evidence of their claim and/or fails to formally report the incident to the cruise line. So with those issues in mind, this blog post is directed to those actions a cruise passenger should take upon suffering an injury while either on-board the cruise ship or on a cruise sponsored tour:
1. TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEO.
You should be aware that most cruise lines have extensive video coverage for all common areas of the cruise ship. Nevertheless, it is the policy of all cruise lines to withhold all video surveillance evidence of accidents until the plaintiff is deposed. Often times, a plaintiff’s recollection of events differs significantly from what is depicted on the video. Moreover, cruise ship video is often at a distance and angled and is not as effective in making a plaintiff’s case as close-up photos and videos taken by the plaintiff of the area where a fall or other accident occurred. Capturing the conditions that led to the accident in close proximity to the time of the accident is always preferable.
2. GET NAMES, ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS OF ANY POTENTIAL WITNESSES – INCLUDING GUESTS AND STAFF.
In a cruise ship injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the cruise line was negligent – that it failed to act with ordinary due care under the circumstances. That requires the plaintiff to introduce evidence at trial. Evidence is comprised of documents such as photos, video, brochures, itineraries, medical records, etc. and/or witness testimony. In order to obtain witness testimony, it is crucial in the first instance to identify witnesses that have knowledge of the accident. People that saw the fall, saw the wet substance on the deck or saw the aftermath of the accident. Thus, it is vitally important that you note the names, addresses and phone numbers of fellow passengers and/or staff who are potential witnesses.
3. IF A SLIP AND FALL ACIDENT, SAVE YOUR CLOTHING AND SHOES.
As soon as an accident occurs, both the plaintiff and the cruise line each have a duty to preserve any relevant evidence. For the cruise line, that would include any surveillance video. For the plaintiff, that includes footwear and clothing worn at the time of the accident.
4. NOTIFY CRUISE LINE OF INCIDENT AND COMPLETE INCIDENT REPORT FOCUSING ON WHAT CRUISE LINE DID WRONG.
Once an accident occurs, an injured cruise passenger and prospective plaintiff has a duty to notify the cruise line of the accident. This can be done by going to the medical center or front desk or by contacting security. All cruise lines have an incident report form that they ask injured passengers to complete. When completing this form, be sure to include every area of your body that was impacted and/or that is in pain. As to what caused the accident, focus on what the cruise line did wrong. – for example, cleaning the deck without a wet area cone or warning, allowing spilled salad dressing to remain on the floor without cleaning it for too long, etc. Also, in the section where it asks how you could have avoided the accident, do not accept any blame or otherwise indicate that you were at fault for what occurred.
5. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY ANDREQUEST AND RETAIN MEDICAL CENTER RECORDS AND BILLING LEDGER.
If you were hurt while on a cruise vacation you must seek immediate medical attention. Because you are on vacation, many passengers try to postpone medical intervention because they either want to try to continue to enjoy their vacation or because they do not want to inconvenience their travelling companions or because they want to see if with more time “it will get better”. That is always a mistake. Try to be as accurate as possible in describing the incident and your injuries. Request a copy of the medical records and medical billing with enough time before you disembark the vessel so that if there are any inaccuracies in the medical records, you can confront the medical staff to address the inaccuracies and seek correction.
6. IF YOUR INJURY WAS DUE TO A FALL, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT CAUSED YOU TO FALL.
With trip or slip and fall accidents, you will always be asked detailed questions concerning what caused your fall. Those questions would typically include how many times you traversed the area of your fall, when you first perceived the substance or part of the ship that caused your fall, what was the substance, or part of the ship that caused your fall, did the substance get on your clothing, how long was the substance present on the deck, etc. You should understand that a cruise line is not an insurer of its passengers’ safety. Every slip or trip and fall is not compensable. It is only where the cruise line breaches its duty of ordinary due care that the cruise line become liable for injuries proximately caused by such breach.
7. IF YOU WERE INJURED ON AN EXCURSION, KEEP COPIES OF ALL TICKETS, BROCHURES AND OTHER WRITTEN DESCRIPTIONS OF THE EXCURSION.
Sometimes passengers are injured on excursions booked through the cruiseline. Should that occur, it is important to keep copies of all tickets, brochures and other written description of the excursion. It is also important to try to determine the name of the excursion vendor providing the excursion to the cruise line passengers. Finally, certain excursions require participating passengers to sign releases or other paperwork before being allowed to participate in the excursion. If you signed any such paperwork, it is always important to request a copy of same or to take a picture of the document in the event a copy is not provided to you.
8. NOTE VESSEL’S LOCATION AND MOVEMENT AND RECORD WEATHER AND SEA CONDITIONS.
Ships move through the ocean and other bodies of water and are subject to wind, weather and other conditions outside of anyone but Mother Nature’s control. Accordingly, when accidents on board a vessel occur it is always important to determine the location of the ship, is it docked or in-route, where it was at the time of the incident or as close to that time as possible and what the weather and sea conditions were at that time. While most if not all of the foregoing information can be obtained from the cruise line in discovery once a lawsuit is filed, it is helpful if an injured passenger can record the information as close in time as possible to the accident. One easy way to do that is to just take a cell phone picture of the navigational maps that appear at various places onboard the vessel, usually on TV screens, or on the television in your cabin or stateroom.
9. START A JOURNAL IMMEDIATELY WITH DATES AND TIMES OF ALL SIGNIFICANT EVENTS.
Vacations that go perfectly are often hard to recall. When things go badly and dates, times, places and details become important, it is vital that you take notes or keep a journal to have available to refresh your recollection. A well-prepared and knowledgeable plaintiff, is always someone that the cruise line fears at trial. Conversely, a plaintiff who does not have a good command of the facts or whose recollection is faulty or inaccurate, makes for a poor witness and a cruise line often will not place a fair settlement value on such a plaintiff’s case for that reason.
10. STOP DRINKING AND PARTYING!
Yes, you’re on vacation, I get it – but there is nothing worse, after you sued the cruise line for breaking your ankle, than being confronted in deposition with Facebook pictures of you drunk and partying a day later. You can be certain that your folio of charges will also be scrutinized by the cruise line and your alcohol purchases both before and after the accident will be discussed.