In maritime law, the warranty of seaworthiness imposes on a shipowner an
absolute duty to furnish a seaworthy ship. The duty cannot be delegated.
Seaworthiness does not mean that a ship must be an accident-free ship
but rather a vessel reasonably fit for its intended use. The definition
of seaworthiness has been the subject of much litigation. It has been
ruled that it refers not just to the physical condition of the vessel,
but that unseaworthiness can also be found if the ship has insufficient
or incompetent crew or a crew that is severely overworked. This warranty
of seaworthiness, however, only applies to the seaman working on the ship, and
does not apply to a cruise ship’s passengers. This issue was recently addressed
with respect to a claim arising from a crippling
fire that occurred on the Carnival
Terry v. Carnival Corp., 3 F. Supp. 3d 1363, 1367-68 (S.D. Fla. 2014), passengers brought suit
against Carnival in connection with their claims of injury while aboard
Triumph, during a cruise that departed on February 7, 2013, from Galveston, Texas,
and which was scheduled to return on February 11, 2013. As a result of
a fire, however, the
Triumph's voyage was cut short when the ship became disabled en route back to Galveston
from Cozumel. In ruling on the parties’ cross-motions for summary
judgment, the court found that plaintiffs’ claims for unseaworthiness
failed as a matter of law because “[t]he general rule of admiralty
law is that a ship's passengers are not covered by the warranty of
seaworthiness, a term that imposes absolute liability on a sea vessel
for the carriage of cargo and seamen's injuries.”
Id. At 1335-36 (citing to
Kornberg v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 741 F.2d 1332, 1335 (11th Cir. 1984)). However, the passengers were able
to maintain an action based on maritime negligence.
This issue appears to be the subject of a current appeal before the 11th Circuit—Means v. CCL, Case No. 15-13280, which we will be monitoring.
It is important to note that while the
Kornberg court did hold that a ship’s passengers are not covered by the warranty
of seaworthiness, it also held that Carnival had “a duty to provide
adequate accommodations to its passengers, . . . so any waiver of unseaworthiness
would be irrelevant.”Kornberg, 741 F.2d at 1335. Furthermore, the duty to provide adequate accommodations
cannot be waived because “[a] sea carrier's ability to disclaim
its responsibilities is not unlimited.”
Id. The 11th Circuit has subsequently declined to extend
Kornberg’s limitation of liability waivers outside of the context of common
carriers, noting that, “[the vessels in
Kornberg and in the other cases cited by plaintiff, however, were common carriers—e.g.,
ferries, ocean liners, or cruise ships.”
Shultz v. Florida Keys Dive Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2000) (holding that scuba diving company’s
common carrier liability release was valid because the company was not
a common carrier since its business was scuba diving, not general transportation).
It is unknown to the author whether the attorneys in
Terry alleged that Carnival breached the duty to provide adequate accommodations.
However, the court ultimately found Carnival liable and awarded Plaintiffs
$118,500 in total damages. You can read more about the verdict in the
Daily Business Review’s
Admiralty and maritime law is filled with nuances which require specialized knowledge. If you have been
injured on a cruise ship and seek compensation from the cruise line, you need a knowledgeable and
competent attorney to guide you and fight for you.
Call Michael C. Black, P.A. to retain a team of Miami cruise ship injury attorneys with over 50 shared
years of experience in admiralty and maritime claims.
Call our phone at (305) 964-8792 to get started with a
free case evaluation!