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Legal Issues Concerning Cruise Ship Sexual Assaults

Miami Cruise Ship Sexual Assault.jpgA sexual assault occurs in the United States every 2 minutes. Often times these attacks are unreported. Like most sexual assault situations, victims raped aboard cruise ships most often do not inform authorities. Sometimes, however, the victim does come forward. Last summer a student was raped aboard a Celebrity cruise ship. According to media reports, the incident occurred on the night of July 23, 2014 aboard the Celebrity Reflection. It is alleged that a man spiked the girl’s drink, sexually assaulted her then tried to rape her. She was found in her cabin is a compromising position. Upon returning to port, the police interviewed the victim and gathered evidence to prosecute her attacker. An arrest warrant has been issued. As of the date of this blog post, no arrest has been made.

We regularly receive inquires as to whether cruise lines could be found legally responsible for shipboard sexual assaults and rapes. Cruise lines may be required to pay for victims’ pain and suffering, loss of income and medical expenses in certain situations. What complicates the answer is that courts apply different legal standards depending upon whether the attackers are crewmembers or fellow passengers.

Cruise lines are strictly liable for passengers victimized by their crew members. This means that it is no defense that the attack occurred without the cruise line being provided an opportunity to prevent it from happening. It is also no defense that the crew member had a clean background check and did not show a propensity for aggression. Furthermore, the damages cap imposed by the Athens Convention for completely non-United States voyages does not apply.

The imposition of strict liability is not applied when the attackers are fellow passengers. In such situations, maritime law applies a reasonable care under the circumstances standard. This means, victims must show that the cruise lines knew or should have known the other passengers would commit attacks or that the cruise lines cultivated an atmosphere wherein sexual assaults or rapes would likely occur. The Doe v. NCL case highlights a situation where a passenger participated in a pub crawl organized by the cruise line and was thereafter raped. This event took passengers to multiple bars aboard the ship where certain games were played. The group at the end of the crawl won a shot of tequila. The passenger became intoxicated during the cruise line sponsored pub crawl. She then went into a public restroom aboard the cruise ship and was raped by a fellow passenger. The legal theory advanced was that the cruise line created an atmosphere which left its female passengers defenseless and prime targets for sexual perpetrators without so much as a warning to its passengers of the history of prior instances of sexual assaults aboard the cruise line’s ships. The court in that case allowed the passenger’s claim to proceed after the cruise line tried to dismiss the proceedings.

As shown, the civil law is complex regarding protection of passengers who were victimized on the high seas. Deciding whether or not to bring a sexual assault claim is a very big decision. We have helped many victims against large cruise lines. Should you like to learn more about your rights, you may contact our Board Certified Admiralty and Maritime attorneys for a free and confidential consultation.