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Federal Court Analyzes Requirements for Cruise Line Liability for Zip Line Activity during Shore Excursion - Wolf v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 101 F.Supp.3d 1298 (S.D. Florida 2015)

Cruises provide a wealth of fun and recreational activities for family members of all ages. Although this form of travel offers a cornucopia of activities, they can pose serious risks, especially if third parties companies recommended by the cruise line during shore excursions fail to comply with industry safety standards. However, federal maritime law related to personal injuries suffered by passengers during activities on land during a cruise can be complicated. A recent lawsuit heard in federal court for the Southern District of Florida provides a primer for the analysis a court will apply when considering the liability of a cruise line for this type of activity. This two-part blog post analyzes this case to provide a detailed analysis of the inquiry a court will engage in when determining whether a cruise line is liable for injuries caused by another company during a shore excursion. Part I of this blog focuses on the facts of the case while Part II reviews the court's analysis of the cruise ship injury victim's theories of liability.

In Wolf v. Celebrity Cruises, a passenger was injured while engaging in zip line activity with a company that had been promoted by the cruise line. Mr. Wolf failed to raise his legs while zip lining from an elevated platform to a platform on the ground, which resulted in serious injury. He had signed Celebrity's Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract which provided as follows:

[a]ll arrangements made for by Passenger before, during or after the Cruise or Cruise Tour of any kind whatsoever, as well as air arrangements, shore excursions, tours, hotels, restaurants, attractions, and other similar activities and services, including all related conveyances, products or facilities, are made solely for Passenger's convenience and are at Passenger's risk. The providers, owners and operators of such services conveyances, products and facilities are independent contractors and are not acting as agents or representatives of Carrier. In no event, shall Carrier be liable for any loss, delay, disappointment, damage, injury, death or other harm whatsoever to Passenger which occurs on or off the vessel or the Transport as a result of any acts, omissions, or negligence of any independent contractors.

Before Wolf participated in the zip line activity, he also executed a waiver of liability with The Original Canopy Tours (OCT), which was the zip line operator. The disclaimer waived liability by the cruise line and OCT for injuries or wrongful death during the zip line excursion. The language of the OCT liability waiver also disclosed that the zip line operation was solely owned by OCT rather than the cruise line. OCT personnel instructed participants on keeping their feet in front of their bodies when approaching a platform. While two passengers testified this information was provided to them, Wolf did not remember receiving this instruction. Wolf could not remember whether he raised his legs, but other participants in the activity testified that he did not do so. As he moved along the zip line at what he perceived as a high speed, Wolf indicated that the leather gloves that he had been provided were not thick enough to allow him to withstand the heat generated on the line to slow his descent.

Testimony at trial established a range of facts regarding the cruise line's evaluation and investigation of OCT. Celebrity has excursion tour operators participate in a bidding process which includes providing details of pricing and safety procedures. The cruise line then dispatches a representative to review the operator's safety ratings and experience the tour firsthand. The representative uses a checklist to gather information relevant to determining if the excursion meets industry standards. Once approved, the excursion operator and cruise line enter into an agreement that specifies the excursion operator is an independent contractor and that nothing in the agreement should be construed as creating a principal-agent or joint venture relationship.

If you have questions about the liability of a cruise provider for injuries suffered on a shore excursion, we invite you to read Part II of this blog which analyzes the law in the context of these facts.

If you have been injured because of the careless or inattentive actions of a cruise line, the Florida Cruise Injury Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our cruise accident attorneys to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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