What to Know About Suing for a South Florida Cruise Ship Sexual Assault

The sudden trauma of a South Florida cruise ship sexual assault can leave survivors feeling stunned, shaken, and unsure of their next steps.Florida cruise ship sexual assault lawyer

As longtime Palm Beach sexual abuse assault attorneys, we are committed to helping survivors and their families pick up the pieces and pursue justice and accountability through civil litigation. This is separate from any criminal investigation or case that may be ongoing. The purpose of civil litigation in these cases is typically to hold accountable any parties who failed in their duty to protect the victim.

A number of recent high-profile cruise ship sexual assault cases have highlighted both the seriousness and unfortunate prevalence of these incidents.

Recently, a federal jury in South Florida awarded a sexual assault survivor more than $10 million after her rape by a Carnival Cruise Line crew member. Although the jury did not find the cruise line was negligent, maritime law allows defendant cruise lines in civil sexual assault cases involving employees to be held strictly liable. Strict liability does not require proof of negligence by a defendant. (This is different than state-level civil sexual assault cases, which typically require proof that the company/defendant failed in some duty of care owed to the plaintiff. This usually involves a failure to maintain a safe premises, negligent hiring/background checks, or inadequate supervision.)

The incident that recently led to the $10 million verdict occurred in 2018 and involved a crew member. He claimed the encounter was consensual, but was fired for violating the cruise line’s policy forbidding fraternization with patrons. The FBI did not pursue criminal charges against him, but the federal jury in the civil case found that he did sexually assault her.

Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Statistics

USA Today recently reported that, per U.S. Department of Transportation figures, more than 100 allegations of cruise ship sexual assaults involving ships embarking/disembarking in the U.S. were reported in 2019. The year before, there were 82. New figures haven’t been posted since pandemic-related shutdowns stymied the industry, which is just now starting to regain steam.

Rape crises experts say that factors impacting the high numbers of cruise ship sexual assaults include an abundance of alcohol, close quarters, and a lack of independent law enforcement. Of course, as our Palm Beach civil trial lawyers can explain, cruise ships do have security. However, these are not public law enforcement agencies. They’re private companies hired by the cruise ships.

Survivors of Florida Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Should Seek Immediate Legal Counsel

Survivors of sexual assault on Florida cruise ships should know that they may have options for legal action. Consulting as soon as possible with a South Florida attorney with experience in maritime law and success in handling civil sexual abuse claims.

Per the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, passengers are entitled to a security guide on the ship who can direct them to immediate medical care and treatment following a sex crime. They have the right to a forensic exam and confidentiality throughout the process. (For those who do wish to undergo a forensic exam – something strongly recommended if you at any point intend to pursue legal action – RAINN advises to avoid showering, changing clothes, or cleaning the area where the incident occurred. Passengers who are on a ship at sea or that is docked in another country are entitled to support at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.

If you are a U.S. citizen, the FBI assumes jurisdiction in the criminal case. However, it’s worth noting they might not be the sole law enforcement agency to be involved. Much depends on where the ship was docked or registered at the time of the crime.

There is a small chance you may be required to resolve the matter in arbitration. This is not preferrable for survivors. It also runs counter to the federal Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act that was passed in 2022 in response to the #MeToo movement. However, as noted in a recent article published in the Yale Law Journal, as an amendment to the Federal Arbitration Act, it only applies in cases where the FAA applies – and there are several exceptions to FAA (albeit, narrow ones). Many states require arbitration in cases where the FAA doesn’t.

Contacting an experienced civil trial lawyer as soon as possible helps ensure you can make the strongest case possible – in whatever arena makes the most sense considering the facts of your case.

Call 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 crime: What to know if you’re sexually assaulted on a cruise. Resources, laws., Aug. 10, 2022, By Nathan Diller, USA Today

More Blog Entries:

Understaffing Cited in Alleged Florida Child Sexual Assault on Disney Cruise, Oct. 4, 2021, Florida Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Lawyer Blog

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