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Sexual assault of minor on cruise ship: Is Royal Caribbean Cruises liable?   

Sexual assault of minor on cruise ship: Is Royal Caribbean Cruises liable?   

In this week’s travel law article, we examine the case of L.A., minor v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Case No. 17-cv-23184-Gayles/Otazo-Reyes (S.D. Fla. June 22, 2018) wherein the Court noted that “This action arises out of the sexual assault, battery and abuse of Plaintiff while traveling as a passenger aboard Defendant’s cruise ship. Plaintiff, age thirteen at the time, was joined on the cruise by his mother and brother. In the early morning hours of August 16, 2015, Plaintiff was with other young passengers in the library on the cruise ship.

Plaintiff alleges that at approximately 2:00 AM, two visibly intoxicated adult passengers entered the ship’s library and sexually assaulted and battered Plaintiff. Plaintiff contends the adult assailants were over served alcohol…that security cameras…captured the majority of the attack, but no employee came to his aid because the cameras were not being monitored…Plaintiff’s IIED (intentional infliction of emotional distress) claim (is based on conduct after the assault.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant ‘put [himself] in the same room as the perpetrators of the sexual assault and asked [Plaintiff] to speak about what occurred, despite the sexual assault having been recorded by Defendant’s surveillance cameras’. Plaintiff was terrified because one the assailants ‘threatened to cut his head off and throw it overboard if he said anything about what occurred’. Plaintiff claims Defendant acted in this manner to avid reporting the incident to authorities, demonstrating reckless indifference to his well-being”. Defendant’s motion to dismiss denied.

In the L.A., a minor, case the Court noted that “To plead  negligence under maritime law, Plaintiff must allege that (1) Defendant had a duty to protect Plaintiff from a particular injury; (2) Defendant breached that duty; (3) the breach actually and proximately caused Plaintiff’s injury and (4) Plaintiff suffered actual harm”.

Duty To Monitor Security Cameras

“As a cruise-ship operator, Defendant owes its passengers a duty of ‘reasonable case under the circumstances’…Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges a heightened duty because Plaintiff’s Complaint is ‘premised, in part, on Royal’s failure to maintain and monitor security cameras…’. According to Defendant ‘this entire theory of negligence should be dismissed…as no such duty exists under maritime law’ (citing) Mizener v. Carnival Corp., 2006 WL 8430159 (S.D. Fla. 2006) (and arguing) that ‘Mizener specifically held that placement of a camera aboard a vessel does not create a duty to monitor the camera for the safety and security of the vessel’s passengers’. However, the plaintiff in Mizener did not claim that he relied upon the camera, or that the cruise ship advertised the camera as a security measure…Indeed, courts have distinguished Mizener…where the passenger plaintiff alleges the cruise ship advertised security cameras and the plaintiff relief on same…Accordingly, Plaintiff has adequately alleged the existence of a duty owed by Defendant (since) Plaintiff alleges Defendant advertised the safety measures aboard its vessel and that Plaintiff relief on the cruise ship’s surveillance cameras”.

Notice Of Hazardous Condition

“Defendant argues that Plaintiff has merely presented ‘threadbare allegations that recite no facts to suggest that Royal knew or should have known of any specific dangerous condition aboard the subject vessel’…(However) Plaintiff does allege notice of a dangerous condition within a very restricted area, Defendant’s cruise ship…(Plaintiff) alleges that ‘Defendant was well aware of te necessity of having surveillance cameras aboard their vessel and appropriate security’ as a result of ‘prior lawsuits and prior reported incidents, as well as prior congressional hearings’ involving claims of sexual assault and over-serving of alcohol…The Court finds these allegations sufficient to allege notice at this stage of the litigation”.


“A cruise ship may be liable in negligence for the criminal acts of a third-party only if the intervening criminal act was foreseeable…Here, Plaintiff alleges facts that plausibly establish that the harm he suffered was foreseeable. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the assailants were over served alcohol…and were visibly and obviously intoxicated. Further, Plaintiff alleges that the assault occurred in the ship’s library and ‘video cameras installed by the Defendant supposedly for safety and security reasons, captured the majority of the assault and battery’. This Court has specifically held that ‘whether the risk of sexual assault was foreseeable, whether Plaintiff was at heightened risk of a sexual assault aboard Defendant’s cruise ship, and whether, but for the service of alcohol, Plaintiff could have avoided the sexual assault, are issues for the jury to determine (citing Doe v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd, 2012 WL 5512347 (S.D. Fla. 2012))”.

Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress

“Here, Plaintiff, a minor ‘who was terrified because one of the perpetrators of the crime threatened to cut his head off and throw it overboard if he said anything about what occurred’, alleges that Defendant put him in ‘the same room as the perpetrators of [his] sexual assault and asked [Plaintiff] to speak up about what occurred…’. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant…exhibited a reckless indifference for his welfare…The Court declines to dismiss Plaintiff’s IIED claim because it finds that at this stage of the litigation, the record is insufficiently developed…”.

Punitive Damages

“Under maritime law, a plaintiff may recover punitive damages ‘where the plaintiff’s injury was due to the defendant’s ‘wanton, willful or outrageous conduct…As detailed above, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a valid cause of action for negligence and IIED…in both claims, Plaintiff has alleged grossly negligent, intentional and/or reckless conduct”.

Patricia and Tom Dickerson

The author, Thomas A. Dickerson, passed away on July 26, 2018 at the age of 74. Through the graciousness of his family, eTurboNews is being allowed to share his articles that we have on file which he sent to us for future weekly publication.

The Hon. Dickerson retired as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department of the New York State Supreme Court and wrote about Travel Law for 42 years including his annually-updated law books, Travel Law, Law Journal Press (2018), Litigating International Torts in U.S. Courts, Thomson Reuters WestLaw (2018), Class Actions: The Law of 50 States, Law Journal Press (2018), and over 500 legal articles many of which are available here. For additional travel law news and developments, especially in the member states of the EU, click here.

Read many of Justice Dickerson’s articles here.

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