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Holland America Line Passenger Injuries

The Law of Cruise Ship Passenger Injuries

All Lawsuits Against HAL Must Be Filed in Seattle, Washington.

Under federal maritime law, your right to bring a lawsuit is controlled by your cruise tour contract drafted by Holland America Line. You should retain all your cruise line documents to supply to your lawyers at the onset of your case. Holland America Line's cruise tour contract provides that all lawsuits against HAL must be brought in the Western District of Washington in Seattle, Washington:

Claims for Injury, Illness or Death: All claims or disputes involving Emotional Harm, bodily injury, illness to or death of any Guest whatsoever including without limitation those arising out of or relating to this Cruise Contract or Your Cruise, Land + Sea Journey, Land Trip(s), or Air Package shall be litigated in and before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, or as to those lawsuits as to which the federal courts of the United States lack subject matter jurisdiction, in the courts of King County, State of Washington, U.S.A., to the exclusion of the courts of any other country, state, city, municipality, county or locale. You consent to jurisdiction and waive any objection that may be available to any such action being brought in such courts.

Emphasis added. For a current version of the cruise contract consult your cruise documents or the HAL Cruise Tour Contract.

These “forum selection clauses” have been upheld as valid in cruise line tickets by the United States Supreme Court in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1991). As a result, you will need to retain a Seattle maritime injury law firm to file your case in federal court in Seattle, Washington.

All Lawsuits Against HAL Must Be Filed Within One Year of Injury

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The cruise line industry has a powerful lobby in Washington D.C. and has been successful in convincing Congress to enact legislation to benefit the cruise line industry and undermine the rights of passengers. While providing glossy brochures of their cruise ships and facilities, the cruise lines have actively sought to insert provisions in the cruise line contacts that harm passengers' rights to bring valid personal injury claims for the cruise lines' negligence. By statute, the U.S. Congress has allowed cruise line companies to shorten the time limits for bringing personal injury claims against the cruise lines to one-year. See 46 U.S.C. §30508. Your HAL cruise tour contract provides that you must provide written notice of your claim within six months of your injury and file a lawsuit against HAL in federal court in Seattle within one-year. If you fail to file a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle within one-year, your will lose your right to bring the claim. The contract provides:

Claims for Injury, Illness or Death: In cases involving claims for Emotional Harm, bodily injury, illness to or death of any Guest, no lawsuit may be brought against Carrier unless (1) written notice giving full particulars of the claim is delivered to Carrier within 6 months from the date of the Emotional Harm, bodily injury, illness or death, (2) a lawsuit on such a claim is filed within 1 year from the date of the injury, illness or death, and (3) valid service of the lawsuit is made within 90 days of filing the complaint.

Emphasis added. The one-year limit for bringing lawsuits against HAL is frequently upheld by courts. See, e.g., Silware v. Holland America Line Westours, Inc., 1998 AMC 2262 (W.D. WA 1998); Davis v. Wind Song Limited, 809 F. Supp. 76 (W.D. Wa. 1992). For a current version of the contact, consult your cruise documents or the HAL Cruise Tour Contract.

Holland America’s Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care.

Under federal maritime law, Holland America Line owes a duty to its passengers to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent injury. See, e.g., Catalina Cruises, Inc. v. Luna, 137 F.3d 1422, 1425 (9th Cir. 1998). However, courts have held that special circumstances surrounding maritime travel may influence the standard of care: “The extent to which circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different from those encountered in daily life and involve more danger to the passengers, will determine how high a degree of care is reasonable in each case.” Rainey v. Paquet Cruises, Inc., 709 F.2d 169, 172 (2nd Cir. 1983). Moreover, in cases of sexual assault or other assaults by Holland America crew members against passengers, the courts have held that HAL is strictly liable for passenger assaults and a showing of negligence is not required. Morton v. De Olivera, 984 F.2d 289 (9th Cir. 1993); Doe v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 394 F.3d 891 (11th Cir. 2004).

In our practice, we regularly encounter passenger injuries while boarding tender vessels to and from shore, injuries from slips or falls on substances spilled on the deck of the cruise ship, injuries on stairs, injuries caused by crew member negligence, injuries from defective equipment, crew member assaults, injuries caused by poor lighting, and many other instances of negligence.

Holland America’s Attempts to Limit Liability for Foreign Travel.

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When a cruise trip begins and ends outside of the United States of America, Holland America Line has attempted to use an obscure treaty, the Athens Convention, to limit the amount of damages that a passenger may claim, regardless of the degree of harm caused by the cruise line's negligence or the amount of the passenger's medical expenses, economic loss, or suffering. Although the United States is not even a signatory to the Athens Convention, HAL has inserted reference to the Athens Convention into its cruise tour contract to limit passenger claims. In deciding whether such limitations of liability are enforceable, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requires that fine-print limitations contained in passenger tickets be reasonably communicated to passengers, and uses a two-part test to determine whether this standard has been met. The first part of the analysis examines the physical characteristics of the ticket and the second part looks to the circumstances surrounding its purchase and retention. See Dinklage v. Holland Am. Line-Westours, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21919, 5-6 (D. Wash. 2007). Accordingly, the particular circumstances of your purchase of the ticket will be relevant to whether the provisions are enforceable.

Holland America Line's cruise tour contract attempts to cap damages that a person can claim in a European cruise to approximately $352,000 to $564,000, depending on the circumstances of the injury. The contract provides, in relevant part:

Cruises To/From or Within the EU: This contract is issued at Seattle, Washington. On international cruises which neither embark, disembark nor call at any U.S. port and where You commence the cruise by embarking or disembarking in a port of a European Member State, Carrier shall be entitled to any and all liability limitations and immunities for loss of or damage to luggage, death and/or personal injury as provided under EU Regulation 392/2009 on the liability of carriers to passengers in the event of accidents. Unless the loss or damage was caused by a shipping incident, which is defined as a shipwreck, capsizing, collision or stranding of the ship, explosion or fire in the ship, or defect in the ship (as defined by the Regulation), Carrier’s liability is limited to no more than 400,000 Special Drawing Rights (“SDR”) per passenger, (approximately U.S. $564,000, which fluctuates depending on the daily exchange rate as published in the Wall Street Journal) if the passenger proves that the incident was a result of Carrier’s fault or neglect. If the loss or damage was caused by a shipping incident, Carrier’s liability is limited to no more than 250,000 SDRs per passenger (approximately U.S. $352,000, which fluctuates depending on the daily exchange rate as published in the Wall Street Journal). Compensation for loss caused by a shipping incident can increase to a maximum of 400,000 SDRs per passenger unless Carrier proves that the shipping incident occurred without Carrier’s fault or neglect. Shipping incidents do not include acts of war, hostilities, civil war, insurrection, natural disasters, or intentional acts or omissions of third parties. In cases where the loss or damage was caused in connection with war or terrorism, Carrier’s liability for any personal injury or death (whether occurring during a shipping incident or a non-shipping incident) is limited to the lower of 250,000 SDRs per passenger or 340 million SDRs per ship per incident. Punitive damages are not recoverable for cruises covered by EU Regulation 392/2009. For a copy of EU Regulation 392/2009, visit eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:131:0024:0046:EN:PDF. In addition, Guests embarking a cruise in a European Member State port are afforded rights under EU Regulation 1177/2010. For a copy of EU Regulation 1177/2010, visit eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32010R1177&qid=1440630405095&from=EN.

Emphasis added. For a current version of the contact, consult your cruise documents or the HAL Cruise Tour Contract.

If reasonably communicated to the passenger, such provisions have been held enforceable. See, e.g., Paul v. Holland America Line Inc., 463 F. Supp. 2d 1203 (W.D. Wash. 2006).

In contrast, other courts have rejected the limitation where it is not reasonably communicated. For instance, in Dinklage v. Holland America Line, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21919, our law firm represented a man who was severely burned in a sauna on a HAL cruise ship. The company asked the court to enforce fine print in the cruise tour contract that provided for application of the Athens Convention's limit on damages. Application of the fine print in the cruise tour contract would have limited our client's claim for his severe injuries and medical expenses to approximately $70,000 U.S. dollars (46,666 Special Drawing Rights). Rejecting Holland America Line's attempts to enforce the contract and holding in favor of our client, United States District Court Judge John C. Coughenour held that the limitation of liability was not reasonably communicated to our client. After the Dinklage case in 2007, however, Holland America Line has now changed its contractual language in an ongoing effort to limit its liability for severe injuries and the new language has not yet been tested in court.

Questions? Just Call and Ask.

Our lawyers have been prosecuting claims against Holland America for decades and have a keen understanding of the complexities of the maritime law and how it may apply to the facts of your specific case. If you would like to discuss your case with one of our lawyers without obligation, contact us at 1.800.848.8008.