Passenger Overboard: How Often Do Passengers Fall From Ships?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

By law, cruise ships have to provide a reasonably safe environment for their passengers to enjoy their vacations without undue risk of harm. When a cruise lines fails to take adequate precautions against known dangers and so fails to provide a reasonably safe environment, the result is passenger injuries or death. One of the most serious incidents that occur because of unsafe environments is a passenger overboard incident.

When a passenger falls from a cruise ship, the individual faces serious peril. Even if the passenger manages to avoid first striking a portion of the ship on the way down, the impact from hitting the water depending on the height from which they fell and the position of the body on impact can cause serious injuries and even death. Those that survive the fall and the impact with the ocean, then risk getting pulled into the vessel’s path, and they if they avoid that, drowning if not rescued in time.  Cruise ship disappearances often caused by passengers falling overboard, rather than them getting off the ship and not returning to it while in a Port.

If you or a loved one suffered injuries, while on a cruise you have the right to seek compensation for your ordeal.  Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. helps victims take appropriate legal action to hold the at fault cruise line accountable and obtain compensation for their clients.

Give us a call today to speak with a cruise ship injury lawyer as soon as possible to find out how we can assist you with conducting an investigation, determining the cruise line’s fault, and then pursuing a claim for economic and non-financial losses for those entitled to them.

How Often Do Passenger Falls From Cruise Ships Occur?

While many people believe cruise ships are safe, the reality is that ships can be very dangerous when proper precautions for passenger safety are lacking.

Since 2000, approximately 300 people have fallen overboard from cruise ships and ferries, and an additional 49 people have gone missing from cruise ships. While there is no proof that all cruise ship disappearances are overboard incidents, most experts speculate that many of these incidents do actually involve passengers falling off the ship and no one sounding the man over board alert.

Unfortunately, this data may not be as complete as it should be because not all cruise lines provide appropriate reports when cruise passengers go missing or fall overboard while aboard a ship.  Some cruise lines provide no data at all, whereas others may undercount the number of incidents that have occurred.

Whatever the final number may be, even one cruise ship passenger falling overboard or disappearing is a tragedy that should not occur. Cruise ships should take steps to prevent passengers from suffering this fate and they should have policies and protocols in place to ensure that any passenger who does fall overboard is, in a timely and efficient manner rescued and thus increase the odds of that person’s survival.

How Do “Cruise Ship Passenger Overboard” Incidents Occur?

Cruise ship passenger overboard incidents occur in a number of ways. In many cases, a failure on the part of the ship or its staff is the direct cause for the passenger having fallen off the ship. Some common examples of such incidents include:

  • Defective handrails: Since passage of the Vessel Security and Safety Act, in 2010, cruise ships must have handrails that are at least 42 inches above the cabin deck. Unfortunately, some ships may not be in full compliance or there may be problems with the handrails, such as shoddy construction, disrepair, or defects that cause the handrails to fail to serve their proper function. If a handrail breaks or is too low and as a result, a passenger falls overboard, or falls to another level within the vessel, absent the passenger having done something of his/her own accord that precipitated the fall, the cruise line is more likely than not liable going to be found to have been liable.
  • Failure to maintain cruise decks or corridors: If a cruise deck is slippery or there is debris on the ship’s walkways, a passenger’s slip and fall cold potentially result on an overboard incident.  Cruise lines have a duty to correct conditions that are likely to cause passengers to fall or, at the very least, they have a duty to warn their passengers about any hazards that exist.
  • Acts of violence: Cruise passengers are not immune to acts of violence. If a crewmember commits the act of violence that caused the passenger to fall from the ship, the cruise line is liable but even if it was another passenger, depending on the facts the line may still be liable as well as the passenger that cause the incident.
  • Intoxication: Alcohol has a tendency to make people lose their balance and try things they would not do sober. For this reason, crewmembers should not over-serve passengers. If a passenger appears to be drunk, the vessel’s staff needs to be sure he is not served any additional alcoholic beverages. If crewmembers over-serve passengers to the point, where they become so intoxicated that they suffer a passenger overboard incident, the cruise line will have a difficult time avoiding accountability for the incident.

These are just a few of the many examples in which a cruise passenger falling from the ship could result in a suit against the cruise line for the incident.

What Happens After a Passenger Overboard Incident?

If a passenger goes overboard or is determined to have disappeared from the vessel, the ship has an obligation to report the incident to the Coast Guard and begin a search as soon as the event is detected.

This could mean turning the vessel around and heading back to the last known location of the passenger in order to conduct a proper. Search. Failure to return the ship to the last location or failure to make a prompt report of the passenger’s disappearance can result in a finding of liability against the cruise line.

In the event of a successful rescued, prompt medical treatment from the healthcare personnel aboard the ship and even a medical evacuation to a shore side hospital is often needed in order to minimize the risk of the injuries suffered becoming potentially long-lasting or life-threatening injuries as a result of the overboard incident.

At the same time, a detailed investigation into how the passenger fell overboard is also necessary, but unfortunately, cruise lines lack any incentive for being forthcoming with information about what occurred in the time leading up to the incident – especially if doing so will bring to light evidence that later will be used against them.  This makes it difficult for passengers to on their own gather necessary information to hold cruise lines accountable.

Obtaining Just Compensation for a Passenger Overboard or Fall from a Cruise Ship

To be able to successfully recover compensation from the cruise line, it will be necessary to prove that the cruise line or its crewmembers were somehow negligent or in breach of a legal obligation. It will also be necessary to prove that the negligence or breach of duty directly resulted in the passenger either falling overboard or disappearing from the cruise ship.

Since passengers falling from cruise ship incidents typically occur when a ship is out at sea and far away from a U.S. border, gathering evidence of what occurred can be very difficult. Many ships also fly flags of foreign countries, so investigators from other jurisdictions may not have the same standards as those of the United States, or they may not make all the information they gather available to the passenger or his or her family after an incident has occurred.

Taking legal action against a cruise line for a passenger overboard incident can also be challenging not just because of the difficulty in obtaining the needed information, but also because there may be clauses in the passenger’s ticket that limit where the cruise line is subject to a lawsuit and dictates which jurisdiction’s laws will apply to govern the incident. This presents challenges for victims and their family members who live a long distance from the location where the cruise ship is arguing that a claim for damages may proceed.

While there are challenges to holding a cruise line accountable, it is important to take appropriate legal action to pursue a claim for compensation after a serious injury, a passenger disappearance, or a passenger’s death due to falling overboard. The costs of coping with injuries or the financial and non-economic losses caused by the injury or death of a loved one can be very high. Victims and their families should not have to bear these costs in cases where a cruise line was to blame for what happened.

Getting Help From a Cruise Ship Injury Lawyer

Holding a cruise line accountable after a passenger overboard incident or passenger disappearance is easier if you have an attorney who understands how to handle these types of complicated cases.

Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. is focused on representing cruise passengers and others injured at sea. We have handled many cases against some of the biggest cruise lines in the industry and we have a comprehensive understanding of how to make the strongest case possible. To find out more about the assistance we can offer, contact us today.