The appeal of going on a cruise, for many passengers, is the opportunity to travel to a number of different ports and visit parts of the world that they might not otherwise have seen. Unfortunately, while cruise lines play up their various destinations as tropical paradises, the reality is that many of the countries and cities they visit have high rates of violent crimes, and passengers are sometimes the victims of these crimes.
Last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released a ranking of the most dangerous countries based on homicide rates, and over half of the top ten countries—including Colombia, Jamaica, Venezuela, and Honduras—are also popular cruise stops. Knowing this, should cruise lines be liable for taking tourists to potentially dangerous ports and failing to warn them about the risks?
Lawsuit against Carnival Highlights Unexpected Dangers at Port
There has been a lot of debate in recent years about how much responsibility cruise lines should be expected to take for crimes that affect their passengers on shore, and one tragic case in 2010 fanned the fires of this argument. The family of 14-year-old Liz Marie Perez Chaparro filed a lawsuit against Carnival Cruises after Chaparro was fatally shot at a cruise stop on St. Thomas. Chaparro and her family were participating in a shore excursion in an open-air “safari taxi” when the vehicle passed by the funeral of a known gang member and gang-related retaliatory violence erupted, resulting in Chaparro being shot in the side. An ambulance was called but never came, and although the driver of the safari taxi attempted to get Chaparro to the nearest hospital, the young girl died before they arrived.
In their lawsuit, the Chaparro family claimed that staff on the Carnival Victory cruise not only failed to inform them that the area they were visiting had been the scene of recent violent crimes and was hosting a gang member’s funeral, but actually encouraged them to visit the beach near that area. They argued that the cruise line had a duty to warn passengers that certain parts of the Virigin Islands had high crime rates and especially high rates of gang-related violence.
Carnival Cruises responded by saying that the shooting on the island was unforeseeable and that they could not reasonably be expected to monitor and report every potential danger in their ports of call. The US Court of Appeals, Eleventh District originally sided with Carnival and dismissed the case, but the Chaparro family appealed, and upon review of the facts, the Court determined that Carnival had been negligent and reversed their initial judgment of dismissal.
What Chaparro v Carnival Means for Other Port Crime Cases
The public still seems divided on whether cruise lines have a duty to warn passengers about potential dangers in port. In a poll conducted by Cruise Critic after the death of Chaparro, 40% of respondents said they thought cruise-goers should do their own research about crime rates and dangerous areas in port, while 30% said that it should be the responsibility of the cruise line to warn passengers. Many legal experts, meanwhile, argue that cruise lines do have an obligation to warn passengers about known risks. One way that cruises could easily do this is to include a column about risks at each port in the daily newspaper that is handed out on the ship.
For now, passengers should do the best they can to protect themselves by researching each port ahead of time. Travelers can check the US State Department website for up-to-date warnings about risks in different parts of the world, or they can simply perform a search for crimes against American tourists in the city or country they will be visiting. It may also be valuable to pull up local newspapers for port cities online in order to see if any crimes have occurred recently in tourist areas.
However, if you are a victim of crime on your cruise in spite of your best precautions, you should talk to a cruise ship accident attorney to determine if the cruise line may be liable. If you can prove that the cruise line knew about a risky area but encouraged you to go there anyway—or even sponsored a shore excursion there—you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries and losses. It is important to hold the cruise line responsible so that they change their policies and do more to warn their passengers about on shore risks in the future.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”