No one wants to get sick on a cruise, but, with hundreds or thousands of passengers on each cruise vessel, illness or disease is not unknown. Here are some things that you should know if you get sick on a cruise ship. (Learn more on the basics of cruise line liability.)
Take Precautions Against Sickness on Cruise Ships
Probably every cruise ship these days has hand sanitation stations all throughout the ship. You should protect yourself against illness. Wash and sanitize your hands as much as possible while on board.
Cruise Ship Liability With Respect to Disease - Negligence
If you get sick or ill on a cruise ship, you must be able to prove that the cruise ship was negligent in order to be able to recover damages from the cruise line. The fact that you got sick does not mean that the cruise line was negligent. Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. This means that you and your lawyer must be able to prove that the cruise line failed to act with reasonable care in the specific circumstances of your case, and that, as a result of the cruise line’s actions or inactions, you got sick.
If you get a minor communicable disease on a cruise ship -- such as a cold or the flu -- you are likely not going to be able to hold the cruise line liable. Colds and the flu are simply too common for anyone to prove that they resulted from the ship’s negligence. But what about other, more serious health problems?
Diseases That Can Be The Result of Cruise Ship Negligence
Some diseases that can have outbreaks on a cruise ship due to the cruise line's negligence are norovirus, food poisoning, and Legionnaire’s Disease.
Norovirus is also called stomach flu, although it is not related to influenza. It causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes headache and fever. It can spread like the cold virus, through physical contact with a sick person or with something that the person touched, like a door handle. Norovirus can also be spread by contaminated food and water.
Norovirus is a very common disease, and so the cruise line will not automatically be liable if there is a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship. If you are the first person on the cruise ship to get a norovirus, you will probably not be able to recover damages from the cruise line. But, if there is a norovirus outbreak, the cruise line must take reasonable precautions to limit the outbreak -- such as closing the buffet lines in the ships’ restaurants, cleaning the ship more frequently, and possibly even quarantining sick passengers.
However, because norovirus is not that serious a disease, the average passenger who comes down with a norovirus will generally not find it worth his or her while to bring a claim against the cruise line, because the damages would likely be minimal.
Food poisoning often gives the sufferer a terrible 24 hours, but nothing more. If you get what you believe to be food poisoning on a cruise ship, and recover in a day or so, you are not likely to have a claim against the cruise line for food poisoning liability. But a serious case of botulism can be life threatening. In such a case, you should contact a cruise ship accident lawyer so that he or she can review the circumstances of your case and determine your legal rights.
Legionnaires’ disease is a serious disease. It is a type of pneumonia that comes from the Legionella bacteria. Its fatality rate is approximately 15%, and the disease can be life altering for survivors.
The Legionella bacterium is not an uncommon organism. It is found naturally in the environment, usually in water. Legionella bacteria grow best in warm water, like in hot tubs, and thrive in large, complex heating and plumbing systems like in hotels, office buildings, and cruise ships. The bacterium is killed by hot water.
People can get Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in mists or water vapor, like is often found in a hot tub. Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person.
The incubation period (time between exposure and onset of symptoms) for Legionnaires’ disease is two to ten days.
Because of the unique nature of the Legionella bacteria, and because the cruise line industry is well aware of the precautions that must be taken against the Legionella bacterium, a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak on a cruise ship can be the result of cruise ship negligence. A passenger who gets Legionnaires’ disease on or within ten days after a cruise should speak with a cruise ship accident lawyer to discuss his or her legal rights.
If you get sick on a cruise ship, you should make some simple observations if you can. Obviously, you can’t go into the kitchen or the plumbing system and make a bacteria count, but you can take note of the following:
- the number of people on board who seem to be sick
- whether the crew seems to be taking additional precautions against illness, and the nature of any such precautions
- whether the ship’s hospital appears to be unusually busy
- any health announcements or warnings made by the crew
If you come down with what seems to be pneumonia shortly after a cruise, you should gather your thoughts about the cruise while they are still fresh in your mind in case the pneumonia turns out to be Legionnaires’ disease. You should note down everything that you can remember about the onset of your symptoms, and make notes about all of the shore excursions that you took. You should note down the date and location of the shore excursion, and exactly where you went while on shore.