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A cruise is supposed to be an exciting and relaxing vacation – a chance to get away from the everyday worries of life, enjoy new places, and meet new people.

Unfortunately, real life happens on cruise ships, including terrible crimes like sexual assault. Victims of this terrible crime may be confused about what to do. After all, you’re on a free-floating vessel in the ocean. Who can your turn to for justice, and who has jurisdiction over your case?

Here’s what you need to know about sexual assault on cruise lines and what you can do if it happens to you or someone you love.

Cruise Ship Law

The issues that arise on cruise ships are not regulated by any specific governmental agency. In most cases, the Federal Maritime Commission may provide assistance and resources from other governmental agencies and departments to cruise ship passengers.

The Department of Transportation also has information available from other agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, that deal with issues related to cruise ships. The Department of Transportation has a resource called “cruise line incident reports” that have been made mandatory since 2010.

When a criminal act such as sexual assault happens on a cruise ship, then it can get very convoluted. There will be complexities involving jurisdiction, laws, and strict liability to contend with, which is why having an experienced cruise ship attorney on your side is the best route to go.

Most of the time, the tickets for your cruise will have a clause that restricts lawsuits against the cruise line. However, the tickets do often tell you what venue a lawsuit can be filed in as a condition of purchase, which is another great reason to hire an attorney.

Whose Jurisdiction is Sexual Assault on a Cruise Ship?

When a criminal act that can be prosecuted occurs on a cruise ship, then it’s possible to pursue that prosecution in a Florida court. However, in some circumstances, a federal court may be the only option.

Under federal law, there is a specific maritime jurisdiction given when a criminal act is perpetrated against a U.S. citizen in a place outside the jurisdiction of any nation – like a cruise ship. The law applies to vessels that are foreign, as long as they have a departure or arrival port in the U.S.

If you or someone you love is sexually assaulted on a cruise ship, and you want to pursue civil actions, then you need to understand who gets sued and where you should sue them. The cruise ship contract that is included in your ticket will tell you what jurisdiction this type of lawsuit must be brought in. For many cruise ships, it is federal court in Miami.

Whose Jurisdiction is Sexual Assault on a Cruise Ship?

Another important thing to note about the proper party to sue depends on the identity of the person who assaulted the victim. If it was a crew member aboard the vessel, then strict liability laws apply. In those matters, you do not have to prove negligence or intent, merely that the act took place.

If the person who assaulted the victim was another passenger, then the same jurisdiction applies as with a crew member when it comes to criminal charges. In civil cases, it can be much different. There usually has to be a deep investigation into the civil liability of a passenger on a cruise ship who commits sexual assault. The cruise ship may be liable in that situation too if they knew the individual posed a threat.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2021 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2021, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019-2021.