Our Maritime Attorney Michael Winkleman Discusses Passenger Rights and Important Safety Tips on FOX & Friends


Cruises are among the most popular types of vacations. They offer an array of activities for all ages to enjoy – many of which, like entertainment and dining, come at no additional cost to the passenger – making cruises ideal for anyone from single travelers looking to have a good time and meet new people, to families with young children who are hoping to spend quality time together. Though cruising has been a top choice for vacationers, these days, the fact that cruise ships are getting bigger and offering tons of additional innovative features, like zip lines, Broadway-style shows, and robot bartenders, makes them pretty much a one-stop-shop for all vacation needs.

But while cruising certainly has a mass appeal, there’s a side to cruising not many people are aware of. Cruise lines have long been criticized for their lack of transparency when it comes to reporting accidents, crimes, and instances when they have failed to uphold maritime safety laws. The general public only comes to learn about a fraction of the incidents that transpire on the high seas, and because of this, are often left in the dark about what can really happen during a cruise vacation, and thus, unprepared for possible accidents and tragedies.

One of the biggest facts about cruise ships that travelers may not be aware of is the fact that most cruise lines do not have lifeguards on board their vessels. This may come as a huge shock to passengers, especially those who are traveling with young children. Drowning accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, whether there are dozens of people around to watch children when they are swimming in a cruise ship pool. Unlike your average cruiser or crew member, lifeguards are expertly trained to recognize even the smallest sign of danger and know how to employ rapid, life-saving medical treatment when an accident occurs. Yet, because there is no actual maritime law requiring cruise lines to staff ships with lifeguards, they continually fail to do so – a huge oversight that, sadly, was once again made clear following the recent drowning of a 10-year-old girl aboard the Norwegian Gem last Sunday.

And yet, despite this horrible tragedy, this isn’t the first time that what was intended on being a fun cruise has turned into a nightmare. Fatal cruise ship drownings and other types of accidents have occurred numerous times throughout cruise ship history. Families cruising with young children are especially at risk, which prompted our maritime attorney, Michael Winkleman, to speak out about these dangers on FOX & Friends.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 23 million passengers are expected to board cruise ships in 2015 – that’s 23 million people that can potentially suffer a tragic accident. Now that summer is quickly approaching, it’s important for families to have a clear understanding of what really goes on aboard a ship, the hazards they may face, and what their rights are. On the show, Winkleman discussed several important “must-knows” for families who plan on cruising together.

“The very first thing that families need to know when booking a cruise, in particular this summer, is that there are no lifeguards on the vast majority of cruise ships, with the exception of Disney Cruises,” explained Winkleman, who represents the family of a 4-year-old who nearly drowned aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.

Luckily, the boy is recovering well, but unfortunately, he is one of a very fortunate few who have survived a drowning accident on a ship. Because of the fact that there are no trained lifeguards on the majority of cruise ships, Winkleman explained that it is very important that families do everything they can to keep their kids safe.

The second thing families need to know is that their rights aren’t always going to be protected in the event of a cruise ship accident. For this reason, Winkleman recommends that families should purchase travel insurance.

Without travel insurance, Winkleman explained that in the event of an accident, “the cruise line is no longer your friend.” Accidents on ships can lead to huge bills and expenses cruise lines are not going to pay for, and having insurance can make a huge difference.

“While you might think that [cruise lines] are there to protect you, they are there to protect themselves,” added Winkleman. “It’s a small price to pay for a lot of peace of mind.”

But what of passenger rights? Shouldn’t cruise lines be held responsible for an accident that occurs on a ship? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, unless passengers take immediate steps to protect their rights.

Winkleman went on to explain that passenger rights are governed by the passenger ticket contract, which our maritime lawyers have often explained actually favors the cruise line and attempts to limit their liability in the event on an accident or injury.

If someone does get hurt on a ship, Winkleman explained that victims have to sue within one year of the incident, whereas in most accidents on land, a person has three or four years to file a suit. This is a very limited time frame, and victims must act quickly in order to protect their rights.

Watch Winkleman’s full interview on FOX & Friends here.