June 2011 Archives

June 21, 2011

Brais & Brais Files Rape & Sexual Assault Lawsuit against NCL on Behalf of a Cruise Passenger

Brais & Brais Cruise Rape Law Firm.jpgBrais & Brais' lawyers filed suit against NCL on behalf of a passenger who asserts she was raped and sexually assaulted in a public bathroom aboard the Norwegian Sun cruise ship. On April 11, 2011, the passenger (whose name is kept confidential due to the extreme nature of this lawsuit) was participating in an NCL organized "pub crawl" whereby crewmembers took her and other guests throughout the cruise ship stopping briefly to drink at various bars. The complaint alleges the bartenders aboard the ship encouraged passengers to drink above their limits. At one stop the passenger refused the drink offered, but the bartender insisted she drink, returned the beverage to her and stated "no wastee, no wastee." After the event, the passenger went to a public bathroom. While in a stall, she heard her name called. The next thing she knew, the door to the stall busted open, a man spun her around and raped her.

The complaint filed in Miami, Florida Federal Court alleges NCL created an unreasonably dangerous condition by feeding the passenger high amounts of alcohol to the point where she became a target for a sexual predator and was unable to defend herself. The complaint also alleges NCL breached its duty to the passenger by not escorting her to her cabin after the event or otherwise protect her while in a vulnerable condition.

It is terrible but rapes and sexual assaults occur on cruise ships with some regularity. In fact, during a short 5 month period 41 attacks were reported among the 25 major cruise lines. Such a high number is staggering. Based on these 41 reports, the FBI opened 13 investigative cases. According to the FBI, 5 of these cases were later closed due to victim reluctance to press charges or because the government declined to prosecute.
The problem of cruise ship rapes and sexual assaults was addressed by Congress with the passage of the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act. Signed into law on July 27, 2010, this Act requires, among other things, all cruise ship cabin doors be outfitted with peepholes, limited access to cabins by crewmembers, rape kits available at the ship's medical faculty and that all claims of rape and sexual assault be reported to the FBI.

June 21, 2011

Cruise Lines Cannot Hide Behind International Treaties to Avoid Cruise Passenger Rape Lawsuits

Cruise Passenger Rape Sexual Assault Attorney.gifSexual assaults and rapes do happen to cruise passengers. In fact, there are several claims of rape and sexual assaults aboard cruise ships each year. This problem was so prolific that in 2010 Congress enacted the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act. This law is designed to enhance passenger safety aboard cruise ship and require cruise lines to report any rape or sexual assault of an American to the FBI.


Cruise Passenger Sexual Assault and Rape Law

American courts hold cruise lines strictly liable for sexual assaults and rapes perpetrated by crew members against passengers. This means a cruise lines are responsible for its passenger who are raped by a crew member despite a having a company no fraternization policy and even if the crew member was a model employee before the attack. It is easy to understand the cruise lines do not like this law and have attempted to find loopholes.


The Athens Convention

One such loophole cruise lines have attempted to avoid strict liability in sexual assault and rape cases is by applying an international treaty called the Athens Convention. In simple terms, the Athens Convention limits a cruise line's liability for a passenger's injury or death to approximately $71,000. This little known limitation is buried in the back of the passenger cruise tickets.

The good news is this international convention only applies where the ship does not touch a U.S. port for the entire cruise. Cruise lines cannot apply the Athens Convention to sexual assaults and rapes or any other type of claim occurring on cruises leaving from, returning to, or calling upon, United States ports. This leaves the convention theoretically applying to cruises purely touching foreign ports such as Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Asian cruises.

The limitation provisions of the Athens Convention, however, do not apply to what are known as intentional torts. An intentional tort is an action which was meant to cause harm. Specifically the Athens Convention states:

The carrier shall not be entitled to the benefit of the limits of liability [in the Convention], if it is proved that the damage resulted from an act or omission of the carrier done with the intent to cause such damage, or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably result. Obviously, passenger sexual assaults and rapes can be only intentional.


Farraway v. Oceana Cruises, Inc.

The Southern District Court of Florida located in Miami applying the intentional tort exclusion of the Athens Convention recently found a cruise line cannot apply the limitations of the Convention in a case where a child claimed she was raped by a crewmember and falsely imprisoned by the cruise line. This ruling makes sense and is consistent with courts unwillingness to allow cruise lines escape liability for rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated on their passengers by crewmembers.


Conclusion

Cruise passengers should be on guard when they travel. However, if the unthinkable occurs, American courts have protected its citizen. The none application of the Athens Convention limitations is the latest situation where a court refused to allow a cruise line to avoid liability for a sexual attack by its crewmember against a passenger.