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  • Ultimate Guide: Cruise Ship Collisions and Dock Traps, Who's At Fault?

    Ultimate Guide: Cruise Ship Collisions and Dock Traps, Who’s At Fault?

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    Ultimate Guide: Cruise Ship Collisions and Dock Traps, Who’s At Fault?

On the heels of several viral videos on social media of cruise ships crashing into docks and people falling into the sea, it appears it’s time to untangle the confusing web of liability for cruise ship dock crashing, trapping, crushing, and drowning incidents, especially with smaller vessels.

Cruise ship vacations are supposed to give passengers rest, relaxation, adventure, and exploration. But transportation accidents can occur, and unlike a car accident, falling in the water will almost always lead to serious injuries or wrongful death. Some companies are worse than others, so prepare for the worse. If so, victims must know what laws apply and the required steps to getting paid the maximum financial compensation.

In this comprehensive guide, Michael Ehline and Florida attorney Louis Holzberg discuss cruise types of ship collision accidents and what all this means. These legal experts will also discuss how liability is determined for crew members, bystanders, and passengers. This ultimate guide also covers compensation options available to victims. Last, we discuss the unique challenges of cruise ship excursions and why hiring a lawyer is so important.

“Pinch Point” Accident?

The maritime term for a person trapped between a ship and the dock is a “pinch point” accident. A typical pinch point incident involves a crew member or dockworker falling, getting trapped, and getting their internal organs crushed as the vessels move with the tides and waves, crushing victims between a dock or pier.

These accidents can result in serious injuries or fatalities occurring on the waterborne vehicle known as a cruise liner. Cold water alone can damage cells, damage an artery, and result in accelerated loss of body fluid as the body goes into shock after falling into the water. The bottom line is that getting crushed and frozen can harm every lymph, route, or vein containing cells or conveying blood or other body fluid from your head to your toes. Your entire anatomy can be damaged. The ship driver or captain needs to conduct more than just an inspection of the boat, for example.

The captain must pay attention and carry out steps to protect others they have conveyed on or offshore with their seagoing vessel or tender boat. The quality of dock safety will vary from port to port, with some ports offering great support. But other times, the shipyard will have virtually no safety precautions at or near the gangplank. Because of this, the captain and crew must take steps to keep passengers, especially kids, away from these pinch points. Avoid pinch points and stay away from ledges while walking along the dockside. Let’s look at some other examples.

Recent Viral Video of Italian “Pinch Point” Accident

A few days ago, on October 3, 2023, in Salerno, Italy, an eight-year-old boy fell into the water and disappeared between a cruise ship and a dock with zero barricades, fencing, gunnels, etc. Local news reports the child’s hand broke free from his dad’s as he ran through the harbor wall.

As he ran, the boy slipped and fell between a gap between the ship’s keel and the dock. (Source). The boy’s father pursued and jumped into the water to save him, but both became trapped, as shown in the embedded photos and images in the container below.

Security guards and bystanders ultimately fished the two victims out with a rope. With dockside safety like this, it’s enough to make every blood vessel in a parent’s body explode. And unlike a car accident or traditional slip and fall case, blame, fault, and damages are not always so cut and dry in a dockside accident- especially overseas. As part of our legal services, we have included the salient points and some secrets the cruise craft industry would rather conceal.

Other Cruise Ship Collisions With Docks in the News

Venice, Italy Reminds Us All of the Threat a Person Could Face

The MSC Opera rammed a riverboat on a congested dock near a busy canal in Venice, Italy. The facts relate there was an engine failure. In this case, we got to see a viral video posted to Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. The viral dockside footage showed several passengers fleeing a tourist boat rapidly running down the dock from an oncoming cruise vessel.

Which Princess Ship hit the dock in SF recently?

Princess Cruise said the Ruby Princess hit Pier 27 during a docking attempt, causing damage to both the vessel and the dock. We found some information on social media to help improve your understanding of how a ship can pinch someone trapped between the boat and a hard place.

What is the Biggest Cruise Ship Crash into a Pier?

The most enormous passenger ship crash happened at a shipyard in the Caribbean. After entering Falmouth, the vessel Jamaica Harmony reportedly hit the jetty. Guests shouted as longboat concrete smashed into the ship’s sterns.

How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk in Port or Dockside?

There are no accurate numbers on dock sinking versus sinking at sea. (Here are some of the most significant accidents at ports.) Based on our research, there is not a massive record of cruise ships sinking at port or docked. Cruise ships will typically remain stable inside a port, often have a tugboat escort, and use special keel/hull thrusters and other modern safety measures to help with stability and safe navigation.

One well-known grounding incident outside of a port involved the Costa Concordia. The facts show that back in January 2012, the ship ran aground and partially sank near Giglio, Italy, after hitting rocks. So, this at least gives an idea about partial sinking damage caused by natural objects. Even though it was low speed, this tragic event killed several passengers and caused significant damage to the ship.

Understanding Cruise Ship Collision Accidents

As noted, cruise ship collisions can range from collisions with other vessels, running aground, to striking submerged obstacles like reefs. These incidents can have severe consequences, resulting in injuries or tragic fatalities.

What is the difference between an ‘Allision’ and a ‘Collision’?

The terms “allision” and “collision” are often used in maritime and legal contexts to describe different types of accidents involving vessels as follows:


A “collision” is an accident that occurs when two or more moving vessels, such as ships or boats, come into direct contact and cause damage or injuries to passengers, crew members, or even the environment.


An “allision” occurs when a moving vessel collides with a stationary object, such as a pier, dock, bridge, or another fixed structure, running aground and striking underwater hazards like reefs, rocks, or sunken wreckage. An allision can cause substantial damage and endanger passengers and crew.

Common causes may include the following:

  • Human error: This includes crew negligence, insufficient training, or fatigue, which can lead to navigation mistakes or lapses in judgment.
  • Mechanical failure: Engine problems or malfunctioning navigation systems can contribute to accidents.
  • Weather conditions: Adverse weather, such as storms, heavy fog, or strong currents, can impede safe navigation and result in accidents.

Both collisions and allisions are usually caused primarily by human error. In a cruise ship lawsuit, the legal issues could be based on factors like crew or captain negligence, failure to comply with maritime regulations, and the extent of any damages to the victims.

Determining Liability in Cruise Ship Collision Accidents

Assigning liability in cruise ship collision accidents entails a multifaceted assessment, considering factors such as the accident’s cause, passenger contract terms, and applicable maritime laws affecting bystanders or crew.

Oregon and Pennsylvania Rule affects- strict liability concerning cruise ship lawsuits

In the context of cruise ship lawsuits, it’s essential to understand that they are typically governed by federal maritime law, specifically the General Maritime Law of the United States. However, state laws, including strict liability, can significantly impact these cases.

Let’s explore the Oregon and Pennsylvania distinctions:


In Oregon, strict liability principles are often applied in cruise ship lawsuits with injuries caused by defective products or onboard faulty equipment. Oregon’s product liability law may apply if a cruise passenger is injured by a defective product or equipment the cruise line provides.

The cruise line could be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a defective product or equipment.

To prevail, the plaintiff must show that:

  1. The product or equipment was defective or unreasonably dangerous
  2. The defect caused the injury
  3. The product or equipment was used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner.

While cruise lines often include liability waivers in their passenger contracts, they may not defeat strict liability for defective products or equipment under this rule.


Pennsylvania also recognizes strict liability in product liability cases. If a Pennsylvania cruise ship passenger is injured by a defective product or equipment aboard, the cruise line may also be strictly liable.

Noteworthy here is that a passenger injured by another passenger or crew member will still be bound by contract, maritime, or negligence law principles, including those involving intentional torts.

Injured Cruise Ship Employees

A combination of maritime laws and regulations typically covers injured cruise ship employees. The specific rules that apply can depend on various factors, including the cruise ship’s flag state, the employee’s nationality, the terms of their employment contract, and the location of the injury.

Here are some of the critical laws and regulations that may apply:

  • Jones Act: The Jones Act, officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, applies to seamen working on interstate or foreign commerce vessels. It allows injured seamen to sue their employers for negligence if their injuries were caused by the employer’s negligence or the vessel’s unseaworthiness. Cruise ship crew members may be considered seamen under the Jones Act.
  • General Maritime Law: General maritime law principles may apply to cruise ship employees. This body of law includes seaworthiness, maintenance, and cure concepts and the shipowner’s duty to provide a safe working environment on a floating steel tube.
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) Regulations: IMO regulations establish safety and environmental standards for ships and can impact cruise ship operations. Crew safety, particularly regarding safety equipment and procedures, is highly influenced to make sea incidents rare.
  • International Labor Organization (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention: Also known as the MLC, 2006, this international treaty sets out minimum working and living conditions for seafarers, including cruise ship personnel. (covers labor-related issues, medical care, and repatriation of injured crew members.)
  • Flag State Laws: The laws of the country under whose flag the cruise ship is registered (the flag state) typically apply to crew members and vary significantly.
  • Employment Contracts: The terms and conditions of individual employment contracts can play a crucial role and will typically specify the jurisdiction and venue to resolve disputes. (Often include draconian compensation and medical treatment provisions.)
  • Local Laws: Depending on where the injury occurs (e.g., in an international port), local laws and regulations may also be relevant. These can include labor, workers’ compensation, and personal injury laws of the jurisdiction where the ship is docked.
  • Cruise Line Policies: Cruise lines often have internal policies and procedures. These will cover crew member injuries, including access to medical care and compensation.

Laws and regulations may change, so it’s important to consult with the legal professionals at Ehline Law Firm for a free consultation. We try our best to stay current on the latest developments.

Unseaworthiness for Crew Claims- also Strict Liability

Unseaworthiness in Crew Claims:

Unseaworthiness is a fundamental concept in maritime law, particularly in the context of crew claims. Under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, shipowners, and operators have an absolute duty to ensure that the vessel and its equipment are fit for their intended use and reasonably safe for the crew. This means that a ship must be seaworthy, and all equipment on board must be adequately maintained and defects-free.

Unseaworthiness claims can include:

  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Inadequate training
  • Defective equipment
  • Improper vessel maintenance.

If a vessel or its equipment is unseaworthy and this condition leads to injury or harm to a crew member, the shipowner can be held strictly liable, meaning that fault or negligence need not be proven.

Strict Liability in Crew Claims:

In the context of crew claims, strict liability often goes hand in hand with the doctrine of unseaworthiness. When a crew member is injured due to unseaworthy conditions or equipment, strict liability means that the shipowner can be held accountable for those injuries without the need to establish negligence. This places a significant burden on shipowners to always maintain their vessels and equipment in a safe and seaworthy condition.

Strict liability ensures that crew members injured can access a legal remedy and compensation, even if the shipowner remains fault or negligence-free. Like Worker’s Compensation, it places the responsibility squarely on the shipowner’s shoulders to maintain safe working conditions and equipment. The captain, as master, must protect the well-being of the crew members. After all, these are essential staff who dedicate their labor to maritime operations. Strict liability promotes safety and accountability within the marine industry. This reinforces the core principle that a seaworthy vessel is necessary for maritime employers.

Injured Cruise Ship Passengers

Injured cruise ship passengers are covered by a combination of laws and regulations that can vary depending on the cruise ship’s location, the passenger’s nationality, the cruise line’s terms and conditions, and the circumstances of the injury.

Here are some of the critical laws and regulations as follows:

  • Ticket Contract or Cruise Passenger Contract: When passengers purchase cruise tickets, they enter into a contract with the cruise line that includes terms and conditions. These material terms delineate all parties’ rights, duties, and responsibilities. These will typically spell out the extent of liability, jurisdiction, venue for filing legal disputes, and other limitations. Savvy passengers should try to familiarize themselves with the contract terms.
  • General Maritime Law: General maritime law principles often apply to passenger injury cases. For example, in California, a claim against Princess would be governed under California negligence law principles.
  • The Athens Convention: The Athens Convention is an international treaty governing the liability of cruise ship operators for passenger injuries and fatalities. It limits liability and requires cruise lines to maintain insurance covering these liabilities for international cruises. Its applicability can vary depending on the case’s specifics, making it essential to speak with a maritime law attorney as soon as possible.
  • Jones Act: As noted, the Act mainly applies to crew members. But sometimes, it applies when a passenger gets injured due to the negligence of the ship’s crew. But generally, passengers are not seamen under the Jones Act.
  • Local and National Laws: Local and national laws of the country or jurisdiction where the ship is docked, moored, or operating could include personal injury laws, consumer protection laws, and other relevant regulations.
  • U.S. Federal Maritime Regulations: For cruises departing from U.S. ports or involving U.S. passengers, the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) may have jurisdiction over certain aspects of the cruise industry, including dispute resolution and consumer protection.
  • Cruise Line Policies: As noted, cruise lines have policies and procedures for handling passenger injuries, including medical care, compensation, and claims processing.
  • International Laws: In international travel cases, international laws and treaties, such as the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), may also come into play.

Injured Bystanders/Dockworkers

These victims include injured bystanders, like police, welders, forklift drivers, and big rig truckers. These individuals got hurt or drowned by a cruise ship in a dock or pinching incident. A combination of laws and regulations typically covers these victims. These depend on the incident’s location, the bystander’s nationality, and the circumstances of the injury or drowning.

Here are some of the fundamental laws and legal principles that may apply:

  • General Maritime Law: General maritime law principles can apply to bystander injury cases. These principles include the duty of the vessel driver, or sea lord, to provide a safe and seaworthy vessel. If the cruise ship’s negligence or unseaworthiness contributed to the injury, bystanders may have legal recourse under these principles.
  • Local and National Laws: The laws and regulations of the country or jurisdiction where the incident occurred may be applicable. These can include personal injury laws, admiralty laws, and laws related to vessels or tender vehicles operating in harbors and ports.
  • Ordinary Negligence: Bystanders injured by a cruise ship may have a legal claim based on negligence. For example, a Port of Long Beach case would likely be handled under California negligence law principles. Here, the dockworker or other victim must show the cruise ship operator or crew acted negligently and that this negligence directly led to the injury.
  • International Laws: International laws and treaties may apply in international travel cases. The specific treaties and conventions can vary, but they often address maritime safety, liability, and compensation issues.
  • The Athens Convention: The Athens Convention, discussed above, may relate to bystander injuries in certain circumstances.
  • Cruise Ship Operator Liability: Cruise ship operators must operate their vessels safely, especially when docking or maneuvering in ports. The operator may be held liable if a cruise ship’s actions or negligence injures bystanders.
  • Proximity to the Ship: The legal liability of the cruise ship operator may depend on how close the bystander was to the ship, the circumstances of the incident, and whether any safety protocols were violated. For example, a dockside car accident may not be covered, and most other drivers are probably not cruising employees with liability.
  • Local Port and Harbor Regulations: Local police, ports, and harbor authorities may have specific regulations and safety protocols to protect bystanders and sea lanes. Violations of these regulations can be relevant to liability.

Navigating the legal aspects of an injury or drowning incident can be complex. The applicable laws may differ depending on the specifics of the case. Injured bystanders or their families must consult with an experienced maritime law attorney who can assess the details of the incident and determine which laws apply. The humble and aggressive cruise ship accident lawyers at Ehline Law Firm can help guide them through swiftly seeking compensation. Additionally, we are experts at gathering evidence, making a proper accident report, documenting the incident, and assisting clients to seek swift medical attention.

Review: Factors Affecting Liability

  • The cause of the accident: A thorough investigation is crucial to pinpointing who or what was responsible.
  • Passenger contract terms: The terms and conditions outlined in passenger contracts may stipulate liability limitations.
  • Applicable maritime law: Specific laws and regulations govern naval accidents and can influence liability determinations.

Parties Involved in Determining Liability

Several parties could play pivotal roles in determining liability:

  • Cruise line company: Responsible for the vessel and its operations. (the cruise line company may bear primary liability.)
  • Ship captain and crew: The actions and decisions of the ship’s crew, including the captain, can influence liability.
  • Other ships involved in the accident: If multiple vessels are affected, the penalty may be distributed among them.
  • Insurance companies: Insurance providers for the cruise line and other parties involved may contribute to compensation.

Compensation for Cruise Ship Collision Accidents

Passengers who suffer injuries or damages during a cruise ship collision accident may be eligible for various forms of compensation, including:

  • Medical expenses: Coverage for medical bills related to injuries sustained in the accident.
  • Lost wages: Compensation for income lost due to injuries, recovery, or rehabilitation.
  • Pain and suffering: Damages for physical and emotional distress experienced due to the accident.
  • Emotional distress: Compensation for psychological trauma resulting from the incident.

Shore Excursions and Liability

Cruise ship shore excursions offer exciting opportunities to explore foreign destinations ashore. However, accidents can occur during these activities, introducing complexities regarding liability and compensation.

Understanding Cruise Ship Excursions

Cruise ship excursions are pre-arranged activities provided to passengers while in port. These excursions encompass a wide range of experiences for people. Passengers can take a break, get a boat, and head to shore.

From a Car Accident to Slipping on a Dock

From there, they can sometimes participate in snorkeling and guided tours on a bus, or even a rickshaw, or horse-drawn carriage. Passengers can often book these activities through the cruise line company or independent tour operators. Although not a shore excursion, one recent case involved a boy jumping off a pirate ship tour into shark-infested waters. Our firm struggled to find out who was liable for booking the time and no, it was not real pirates.

Liability for Cruise Ship Excursion Accidents

Liability for accidents during cruise ship excursions depends on many factors that will come into play. If you booked your trek through the cruise line company, they may be liable for your injuries or damages. However, note that if an independent tour operator booked your trip, they might be partially or fully exposed.

Hiring a Cruise Ship Lawyer

Guidance from a cruise ship lawyer is crucial for passengers, crew, and others injured during a cruise ship collision. For most lawyers, this is not their cup of tea. But if you want to receive an award of maximum financial compensation, you’ll need a detail-oriented cruise ship lawyer.

Reasons to Hire a Cruise Ship Lawyer

  • Expertise in maritime law: Cruise ship lawyers will possess specialized knowledge in maritime law. This enables them to offer tailored advice for any party or claim under their control.
  • Navigating the legal process: The best attorneys will guide injured passengers through the legal intricacies, ensuring a smoother journey toward total and fair compensation.
  • Representation in negotiations: Cruise ship lawyers have to be able to advocate on behalf of wounded passengers during negotiations with cruise line companies or insurance providers. Make sure you hire the right lawyers.

What to Look for in a Cruise Ship Lawyer

When hiring a cruise ship lawyer, consider the following factors:

  • Specialization in maritime law: Ensure your potential injury attorney has experience in admiralty naval law claims and a deep understanding of international treaties and other obligations you’ll need to learn to win big.
  • Experience handling cruise ship cases: Prior experience handling similar cases shows competence in navigating complex legal matters on the high seas. Ehline Law, for example, has not only litigated these cases but has also lobbied Congress for strengthened cruise ship safety laws.
  • Proven track record: Assess the lawyer’s history of securing compensation for clients in cruise claims throughout several states. This reflects on the areas of law they practice and their ability to achieve favorable outcomes.

Ultimate Guide To Cruise Ship Dock and Pinch Incidents Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, cruise ship collision accidents can have far-reaching consequences for passengers, necessitating a clear understanding of liability determination and compensation options. The recent dock accidents in San Francisco and Italy highlight the deadly effects of collisions and allusions.

Recognizing the unique challenges associated with cruise ship vacations and the importance of engaging the right cruise ship lawyer is crucial. By adhering to these guidelines, passengers can ensure they are prepared and protected in a cruise ship collision accident. Michael Ehline is always ready to assist international cruise victims 24/7 at (213) 596-9642. Like and follow him on Twitter here.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.