A cruise line has a responsibility to know that passengers are at risk of sexual assault, and have a duty to do more when it comes to the protection of minors especially. That was the conclusion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Miami, overturning the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the defense.
Cruise ship injury lawsuits have compiled in recent years, following a string of victories by plaintiffs alleging cruise ship owners and staff did not protect them from criminal assault resulting in serious physical and psychological injury – despite knowing this was a common risk.
In this case, according to court records, plaintiff was plied with alcohol by a group of adult men who then guided her, in full view of security cameras, stumbling, back to a private cabin and took turns sexually assaulting her. She was 15-years-old. The girl was on a seven-day cruise with her grandparents and two sisters.
The Miami Herald report that sexual assaults are the No. 1 most common crime reported on cruise ships. The U.S. Department of Transportation revealed that just in the first three months of 2019, cruise lines reported 18 sexual assaults to federal authorities. Meanwhile, there were six reported thefts over $10,000 and one physical assault resulting in serious bodily injury. We know that sexual assault is a vastly under-reported crime as it is, but cruise ship companies are mandated by federal law to report serious crimes committed either in U.S. waters or against U.S. citizens to the FBI. that’s under a 2010 law intended to reduce maritime crime.
How Can a Third Party Be Liable for Criminal Attack?
Although no one can be criminally prosecuted for a crime but the person(s) alleged to be directly responsible, injury attorneys in Fort Lauderdale can explain that third parties can be held civilly liable when they have a special relationship to the alleged victim that created the expectation of duty or protection.
Property owners, for example, owe certain duties of care to guests, particularly if the guests are members of the public invited for the financial gain of the owner. Failure to protect guests from dangers that are known or foreseeable is a form of premises liability.
In this case, plaintiffs argue the sheer number of sexual assaults that are reported on cruise ships – proportionate to other crimes and compared to its frequency at other places of business on land – alerted defendant cruise line (and others) that this is a serious and ongoing problem.
The trial court’s previous decision to dismiss the case was based on the assertion that the cruise company could not have foreseen the teenager was at-risk, and thus had no duty to protect her.
In its reversal, the 11th Circuit flatly disagreed with that conclusion as a matter of law, noting how prevalent sexual assaults are aboard not only this cruise line but all of them.
That the ruling was handed down by an appellate circuit that handles most if not all federal claims for injury aboard cruise ships off the coast of Florida is significant, allowing this plaintiff – and possibly others that follow – the ability to establish that rapes on cruise ships are a danger about which these companies know – and have an obligation to their passengers to protect against.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
CRUISE VESSEL SECURITY AND SAFETY ACT (CVSSA) STATISTICAL COMPILATION, Jan. 1 – March 31, 2019, USDOT