Everyone knows when you go on a cruise ship you are going to eat a lot because there is an unlimited amount of food made available as part of the price paid for the cruise. Royal Caribbean has decided to offer not only a buffet of food, but a buffet of alcohol by offering passengers an option to purchase an all you can drink package during a Royal Caribbean cruise.
The cruise line is even offering different packages, depending on the type of alcohol one likes to consume. There is an article reported in U.S. Today Travel describing the different packages. A premium package is offered to those who want to make sure that they can purchase premium liquor brands and better wines.
I recently blogged about the incredible sizes of the new cruise ships that are being built, including Royal Caribbean’s, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, which have a capacity of 5,400 passengers. Can you imagine a cruise with 5,400 passengers with unlimited alcohol made available to the passengers at a set low price?
I have been handling Admiralty and Maritime cases involving cruise ships for almost 30 years, and many of the accidents that occur aboard cruise ships, and the more serious incidents such as sexual assaults and passengers falling overboard, involve the consumption of alcohol. It is clear that cruise ship companies make a lot of money selling alcohol onboard cruise ships, and there should be some type of regulation on the sale and consumption of alcohol, as there are with the alcohol establishments on land in the different states.
The different states have Dram Shop Acts which deal with the liability of bars and lounges that sell liquor, and the question then becomes whether a Dram Shop Act of a particular state will apply to a cruise ship company. Cruise ships are like floating hotels or cities, and travel international waters and visit many different ports. The ships are registered in foreign countries, and are owned and operated by foreign incorporated companies. This is despite the fact the major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, have their base of operations and main offices in Miami, Florida. It is also despite the requirement in the passenger tickets that the lawsuits be brought here in Miami, Florida.
Despite being on notice of the amount of criminal activities and other incidents that occur aboard cruise ships due to consumption of alcohol, Royal Caribbean has now introduced this new all you can drink package that is available to passengers. Of course, once a passenger purchases such an option, the passenger would have the absolute right to insist on as much alcohol as wanted.
Getting back to whether the Dram Shop Act of a particular state would apply, this issue has been addressed by our appellate court here in the State of Florida in the case of Hall v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 888 So.2d 654 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2004). In that particular case a passenger became very intoxicated and fell down a set of stairs. The appellate court stated that the state Dram Shop Act did not apply to the cruise ship company. However, the appellate court ruled that general Maritime Law governed the passenger’s action.
Under general Maritime Law, the Court cited to the often cited United States Supreme Court case of Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625 (1959), which sets forth the standard of care required of a cruise ship company, which is to exercise reasonable care for the safety of all its passengers. This duty to exercise reasonable care for the passengers includes a duty not to over serve a passenger to the point of allowing intoxication, and a duty to protect the passenger from the dangers associated with the known intoxication.
Our firm represented the parents of George Smith, who went overboard during his honeymoon cruise. The facts that were established in that case was that George Smith was last seen in the ship’s bar consuming alcohol. Witnesses indicated that he was visibly intoxicated, and that the bartenders onboard the cruise ship participated in serving him an excessive amount of alcohol despite his visible intoxication. He had to be helped back to his cabin by other passengers. No one from the cruise line assisted in making sure that he made it back to his cabin safely. No one from the cruise ship company made sure that he did not become intoxicated, and then none of the staff took any steps to protect him from any dangers. These were part of the allegations in the lawsuit that was going to proceed forward against the cruise line. However, the case settled.
Intoxication onboard a cruise ship is a big issue. Many people think there is no danger of drinking too much onboard a cruise ship because there is no danger of driving drunk, which is the extreme danger presented on land when a patron is allowed to leave a bar intoxicated. However, there is a concern is for the safety of all of the passengers, not only the intoxicated passengers. The ship is moving in international waters in pitch black darkness, and there are potentially 5,400 passengers onboard the ship. There is the potential for criminal activity including sexual assaults. There is a possibility of falling overboard. There is a possibility of getting injured by falling while navigating the huge cruise ship in order to get back to your cabin. While there is no danger of drunk driving while onboard the cruise ship, there are many other dangers associated with intoxication of passengers.
For example, our office had a sad case involving a 21 year old who was served an excessive amount of alcohol, and was seen on surveillance video leaning over the railing on a ship after getting sick, and he fell over into the water and was never found. In another case we handled, the ship over served a minor alcohol, and she fell off the balcony in the cabin into the water while the ship was at sea and was never found.
There are dangers of intoxication aboard a cruise ship, and one must question the all you can drink packages.