Filing a Florida Lawsuit for Sexual Assault on a Boat

When sexual assault occurs on a boat off the coast of Florida, survivors can understandably be a bit perplexed about their options for legal recourse. What jurisdiction is in charge? Who can be held responsible? How much time is there to file? West Palm Beach sexual assault lawyer

At Halberg & Fogg, our West Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers are committed to the fight for accountability in the wake of such offenses. We know that survivors of sexual assault often have a number of legal options, but it’s imperative to be deliberate in the actions we take. A misstep could mean wasted time, added trauma for survivors and potentially lost opportunities to pursue justice.

The jurisdiction (court that has authority) and the laws that will apply in a civil sexual assault lawsuit stemming from an incident on a boat will depend on a few things.

These are:

  • Where was the boat when the incident occurred? The U.S. Constitution gives jurisdiction over admiralty cases to the federal courts. However, the fact that it happened on a ship doesn’t automatically mean the case has to go to federal court. For admiralty jurisdiction to exist in a tort case (which is what civil lawsuits for sexual assault are), there has to be a significant relationship between the alleged wrong and traditional maritime activity AND the tort occurred in navigable waters.
  • Who owns the boat? Private boat owners and operators may have a duty of care to ensure a reasonable level of safety to guests, but that duty may not be as great as that held by a commercial boat owners and operators.
  • In what country is the ship registered? Cruise lines may register in other countries and fly foreign flags. That could mean that the laws of that country would apply. But also, if the ship departed from a port in the U.S. ,the laws of that state, the federal government, and international treaties could apply.
  • If on a commercial vessel, was there language on your ticket that specified the jurisdiction? Cruise lines and other commercial boat operators often stipulate the jurisdiction and other terms of any potential litigation as part of the purchase agreement. A lot of cruise lines in South Florida dictate that all lawsuits against them must be filed in Miami under Florida law. Furthermore, while admiralty and maritime matters have a three-year statute of limitations, your cruise ship ticket might shorten it to one year – with notice of intent to file litigation required within just 6 months. A U.S. Department of Transportation report released last year revealed 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults aboard U.S. cruises occurred on ships run by Royal Caribbean or Carnival, both of which operate 24 ships.
  • Where do the defendant and/or plaintiff live? In some cases, one can assert personal jurisdiction if the defendant and/or plaintiff lives in a certain state. For example, a claim against former boy band singer Nick Carter stems from allegations of repeated sexual assault of a then-15-year-old girl on a yacht off the coast of Florida in 2003 — but the lawsuit was filed in Nevada, where Carter lives.

As for who can be liable, it may be be possible to pursue a case directly against the alleged abuser. But that typically only works in cases where that person is independently wealthy (such as the case against the former boy band singer).

Alternatively, such cases may be filed against:

  • The owner of the boat, if there’s evidence of negligence in providing adequate security or supervision.
  • The operator/employer of the boat crew, if there’s evidence of negligent hiring, negligent hiring or negligent supervision.
  • The operator of any excursion company that may have employed the assailant.
  • The U.S. government. This would be reserved for situations involving sexual assaults at sea involving the U.S. Marines, Navy, Coast Guard or other military arm. (The U.S. Navy received 2,052 reports of sexual assault in 2022 alone.)

The DOT reports that among sexual assaults reported on cruise ships, 82 percent were committed by passengers, while 17 percent were allegedly committed by crew members. A 2013 congressional report indicated that approximately one-third of reported cruise ship sexual assaults involved minors.

The U.S. Coast Guard has the authority and jurisdiction to conduct criminal investigations and sexual assaults aboard U.S.-flagged commercial vessels anywhere in the world, as well as the authority to conduct administrative suspension/revocation of merchant mariners for allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.

If you have been sexually assaulted on a boat off the coast of South Florida, our experienced Florida sexual abuse lawyers can help you examine your legal options.

Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.

Additional Resources:

Cruise Ship Law, Justia

More Blog Entries:

Suing for South Florida Sexual Assault in the Workplace, Jan. 24, 2024, West Palm Beach Sexual Assault Lawyer Blog

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