2-Minute Law School: Maritime Law

Hi. Professor Albert here for this week’s edition of THELAW.TV’s 2-Minute Law School. This week, we’re going to discuss maritime law.

Also knows as admiralty law, maritime law is a distinct body of law that governs maritime questions and offenses. It is a body of domestic law governing maritime activities … and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans. It deals with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, shipping, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea. Admiralty law also covers many commercial activities that are maritime in character.

On February 10, 2013, Carnival Cruise lines experienced a devastating fire in the engine room of their ship, the Triumph. This resulted in a loss of power and propulsion, which left the ship, its crew, and its passengers adrift at sea until they were brought to port in Mobile, Alabama by a fleet of tugboats four days later. While there were no injuries or casualties to the crew or passengers, lawsuits against Carnival have already begun to be filed.

Being that cruise lines operate off-shore and fall are governed by maritime law, many people aren’t aware of their rights and when they can or can’t take legal action. Much like the fine print on a ticket to a sporting event or a concert, Carnival Cruise lines issues warning and rules on the back of its tickets, which become a legally binding contract between the cruise line and the passengers. One of these warnings is a prohibition on class-action suits against the company. Carnival tickets also say that the cruise line is not liable to passengers for damages for emotional distress, mental suffering, anguish, or psychological injury of any kind under any circumstances, except when such damages were caused by the negligence of Carnival and resulted from the same passenger sustaining actual physical injury, or having been at risk of actual physical injury. And according to a recent investigation by the Coast Guard, a fuel-line leak may have caused the engine room fire and quite possibly may remove any case of negligence against Carnival.

As a passenger aboard a cruise ship, you would want to know what rights you’re entitled to. Based on the language of the ticket contract between the cruise lines and passengers, it seems like your rights are quite basic. But to limit their liability even further, most cruise lines are incorporated in foreign countries to avoid taxes, labor laws, and safety regulations and, in turn, to limit your rights.

If you have questions about maritime law, watch hundreds of local attorneys answer thousands of legal questions on video, or consult with one of the featured lawyers. Online at THELAW.TV.

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