In the first part of our blog series, our firm discussed the case of a pregnant cruise passenger named Michelle Ligori who was denied embarkation on a Royal Caribbean ship because she was two months pregnant and did not have a “fit to travel” medical note. Though it is common for cruise lines to have a pregnancy policy in place, this policy is usually meant to protect women who are far along in the pregnancy, certainly not those who are in the early stages like Ligori. In fact, Ligori’s pregnancy was so recent, that not even her personal physician knew she was pregnant. Because of this, he was unable to fax the required note when she called his office.
But even aside from this policy, the manner in which Royal Caribbean handled the situation was appalling. Embarkation staff failed to offer Ligori and her family information about how they could obtain the required doctor’s note. It wasn’t until a mere half hour before the ship was due to set sail that Ligori was told she should go to a hospital to acquire the notice. Why wasn’t she notified immediately? Perhaps she would have had some time to go to a local clinic and get a note. As a result of the odd policy and delay in informing the family of what they should do, Ligori ended up having to fly out to the ship the next day and racked up over $1,500 in additional expenses – expenses that Royal Caribbean surely won’t be quick to pay.
So, should this hopeful traveler buckle down and accept her losses, or does she have another recourse? What are Ligori’s legal rights as a cruise ship passenger and is she entitled to reimbursement for her additional expenses? Well, the short answer to the question is likely a yes she does have recourse against the cruise line for a variety of remedies including breach of contract. But unfortunately, the practical realities of filing lawsuits is that they are extremely expensive and time consuming, and thus, it is unlikely that a maritime lawyer would be willing to handle a case where only a few thousand dollars at issue. Keep in mind that for the vast majority of maritime injury cases we handle, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means we are not paid a single penny unless and until we are able to make a successful recovery, and at that time, our fees are a percentage of the recovery.
The situation is unfortunate, but one thing is clear: Ligori should never have been asked at port whether she was pregnant. This is a breach of privacy. Why would the staff member ask her such a question to begin with? It would be near impossible to view signs of pregnancy at just two months along, so was it a matter of discrimination? Moreover, if a pregnancy question can be asked, does that mean other personal questions are also game? Where does the cruise line draw the line?
Furthermore, the policy requiring women to submit a doctor’s note is meant to protect women at later stages of pregnancy. The family should not have been denied boarding because of a strange policy that isn’t even clearly visible on the cruise line’s website nor ticket contract. Even if Royal wanted to argue that the policy is there and it’s up to passengers to review policies carefully, Ligori should have been told she would need the note to board a lot sooner than right before the ship was going to set sail.
It is one thing for the cruise line to protect itself and its passengers with a pregnancy policy, but it’s another thing to deny boarding when a woman is in the very early stages of her pregnancy, when the baby and woman’s health isn’t at risk.
While cruise passenger ticket contracts are often wrought with loopholes to protect the cruise lines from liability following an accident, injury, or any other type of incident onboard a vessel, breaches of privacy and failure to provide good customer service in the face of draconian policies is never acceptable.
As of right now, Royal Caribbean claims it is still “in discussion” with the Ligori family regarding compensation, but as the attorneys at our firm have seen time and time again, this is likely to be an uphill battle. Hopefully Royal Caribbean will do the right thing and reimburse her for her lost expenses.
Our advice? If you are a cruising passenger with any type of medical condition, food allergy, or the like, then talk to the customer service representatives of the cruise lines and they will explain to what, if anything, can or should be done in such a situation.
Most importantly, sincere congratulations to the expecting family!