Disney Cruise Lines is facing a Florida sexual assault lawsuit after the family of a 3-year-old girl alleges she was targeted by another child in the ship’s day care. The plaintiffs say the day care was poorly-staffed with employees who weren’t properly trained. The company denies the allegations and expressed their intent to the Orlando Sentinel to vigorously defend against them in court.
As our West Palm Beach sexual assault lawyers can explain, cruise ship sexual assaults have been an ongoing issue that has rightly garnered much media scrutiny the last several years. Civil litigation in these cases argue premises liability and general negligence, though there are special considerations because of the fact it happened at sea.
Claimants in the most recent case are arguing children aboard the ship’s daycare should have been separated according to age groups to protect the younger kids. The 3-year-old, they say, should have been grouped with infants, toddlers, and other kids under 5. Staffers, they say, should have been better trained about how to prevent and react to improper touching of a child.
Cruise Ship Sexual Assaults
Cruise ships are often referred to as “floating cities,” with movie theaters, restaurants, private quarters – and crime. U.S. government data shows that sexual assaults are the most commonly reported crimes on cruise ships. It’s been revealed also that many victims of sexual assault aboard cruise ships are minors. One report by Congress in 2013 indicated one-third of sexual assaults on cruise ships involve a victim under the age of 18.
Most incidents involve criminal acts by other passengers, though a handful every year involve crew members and third parties.
Rape on cruise ships is an underreported crime, so the several dozen sexual assault incidents reported by cruise ships to the public annually (thanks to the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010) is likely a low reflection of the actual total.
Laws on Cruise Ship Sexual Assaults
There’s no federal government agency that oversees cruise ship complaints from customers. The Federal Maritime Commission does offer assistance to cruise ship passengers.
Crimes may be reported and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, it’s important to understand that security on the ship are employees of the cruise line, not law enforcement. The CVSSA does however does require that passenger sexual assault victims should have access to necessary resources for medical attention, on-board sexual assault forensic exams, and the ability to file a report.
Complications of Suing Cruise Ships for Sexual Assault
Because maritime laws are applicable, civil injury claimants may face different proof standards, shorter statutes of limitations, and more pitfalls than those in most other Florida sexual assault cases.
Your ticket is your contract with the cruise line, and all that fine print will become relevant if you’re considering pursuing a civil claim against them for a sexual assault.
For example, you may or may not have noticed the fine print on your cruise ship ticket when you bought it, but it probably restricts any litigation against the company to the jurisdiction of federal courts. (The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the fairness of cruse line forum clauses.) There might also be detailed provisions for how civil cases must proceed and the administrative remedies you may need to pursue first.
The ticket also likely outlines its own statute of limitations on passenger claims. While Florida law allows 4 years for most sexual assault claims, maritime law allows three years. But the language on your ticket might shorten that window to just one year, with notice required within six months. Sometimes as sexual assault attorneys that means we are pressed to file a claim while the victim is still recovering from the trauma/undergoing medical treatment; failure to act within that six-month window could mean the entire case is lost. That’s why it’s so important to consult with a local cruise line injury attorney as soon as possible.
There are also complications when it comes to things like:
- Investigating the site of the incident. (It’s not like walking up to a grocery store where a slip-and-fall occurred. Attorneys must go to wherever the ship is docked and gain special permission to board and investigate.)
- Interviewing witnesses. Tracking down other passengers who may have been witnesses is tough because they may be from anywhere in the world. Crew members might be easier to find, but difficult to gain cooperation from when they’re often from Third World countries, don’t speak English or Spanish, and their job is on the line.
On the flip side, surveillance footage can prove helpful, as do the reports generated in accordance with the CVSSA.
The identity of the assailant might impact what type of civil lawsuit can be filed. For instance, if the attacker was a crew member, then a legal theory known as strict liability would apply. That would mean you don’t necessarily need to prove intent or negligence; only that it happened and the offender was an employee.
If the offender was not an employee but rather a fellow passenger or contractor, the cruise line may still be liable, most likely on the basis of legal theories like premises liability (inadequate security, etc.), negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, etc.
If you are a victim of sexual assault in South Florida or on a cruise ship that docks in South Florida, our dedicated civil trial attorneys can help.
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.
Family says toddler molested on ship, Disney denies claim, Oct. 16, 2021, Associated Press