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What happens if someone dies as a result of injuries sustained on board a cruise ship?

Death in cruise ships is more common than you might think. In recent years, we’ve had a lot of media coverage on suicides, homicides, people falling overboard, and even foodborne illness. When death onboard a cruise ship occurs, a federal statute passed in 1920 called the Death on the High Seas Act comes into play. The key feature for the application of that statute is where was the ship when the injury giving rise to the death occurred.

If the ship was on the high seas or the territorial waters of another country, the Death on the High Seas Act will apply and the elements of damage that you’re able to recover are limited. If, however, the ship was in port or within the territorial waters of any of the states of the United States or any of our territories, then the law of the particular state or territory will apply, and generally speaking, that’s more generous.

If you don’t know where the ship was when the injury giving rise to the death occurred, it’s typically recorded in the ship’s log if it’s brought to the attention of the cruise ship. But you’d be well advised to consult with an attorney who might be able to do some investigation and find that out, and then counsel you on what your rights are and what your opportunities are in terms of the potential for a legal claim.