In our last blog, our firm discussed the number of ways in which inclement weather can pose a greater risk to those at sea than to those on land. Despite the fact that there have been several catastrophic motor vehicle accidents throughout the years that were weather-related, the sheer isolation of being out on a vessel during a bad storm exponentially increases a person’s chances of being injured. Without the ability to seek shelter more readily as one would on solid ground, being caught in a bad storm at sea can be extremely dangerous and often lead to injury or worse, fatalities.
When someone is involved in an accident at sea, be it an accident involving a boat, cargo vessel or cruise ship, they always have a right to contact a maritime attorney for assistance to review the matter. An attorney with experience and knowledge in maritime law will then determine whether or not the victim has a viable claim, and if so, will represent them and assist them in recovering compensation. That being said, is it possible for a victim of a weather-related maritime accident to be compensated for their injuries or the loss of a loved one? The answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Accidents relating to weather conditions can be very complicated. In instances where someone is injured through no other person’s fault aside from inclement weather, there is little chance of obtaining compensation because no one committed any wrongdoing. However, when there are other factors involved, such as negligence, then it’s possible for victims to have a claim. As an example, failing to avoid extremely bad weather or failing to properly warn the passengers or failing to set the vessel up for bad weather can be the basis of a successful claim.
For example, let’s say a boater went out for a relaxing day of fishing. Suddenly, the weather starts to change, despite forecasts indicating clear skies. The seas become choppy and the sky becomes gray. Once the rain starts to pour, it’s nearly impossible to navigate. The vessel is equipped with a light to help the boater see as clearly as possible in murky weather, but the light is malfunctioning due to a manufacturer’s defect that was not addressed. As a result of not being able to see clearly, an accident occurred. Had the light been working properly, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. In this particular situation, because manufacturer’s negligence may have contributed to the accident, victims may have a viable claim against the manufacturer or perhaps the entity that maintains the vessel.
As far as accidents stemming from unfavorable weather conditions on cruise ships, those are a bit more complex. Cruise lines have a responsibility to reasonably protect the safety of everyone on board a ship, and that often means avoiding certain port visits if said port visit would require the vessel to sail through adverse weather conditions. Most cruise lines state in their passenger ticket contracts that they will not issue refunds or compensate passengers for weather-related itinerary changes, but there are times when in lieu of the cancelled port, some cruise lines might issue onboard credit to passengers or might even visit another port of call instead or spend extra time at a scheduled port. However, these options are all at the cruise line’s discretion and are not guaranteed.
Now, if a cruise ship decides to head to a particular port despite weather warnings and someone is injured, that’s a different story. It’s truly a shame when port visits have to be cancelled because of bad weather, but it can be negligent for a cruise line to visit that port knowing very well that dangers might be faced. Sometimes cruise lines ignore weather warnings or sail through bad weather on purpose because missing certain ports means missing the profits generated from that destination. No matter what the reason, if a cruise line ignores weather warnings and an accident occurs, the cruise line may be found liable for any injuries that ensue.
Anyone who has been injured in a weather-related cruise ship accident has the right to seek legal help. It’s important for victims to understand that even if they may not feel they have a strong case, the need for a maritime attorney is always present when an accident occurs. An attorney will review all the details surrounding the incident and will know when there’s a good chance of establishing a case and possibly recovering compensation for the victim.