When vacationers head out to sea, they don’t expect tragedy to strike, but poor construction, navigation, or staffing can increase the chances of a ship causing the wrongful death of a passenger. When a passenger steps on board a vessel, the vessel owner and captain are charged with a duty of care to that passenger, and must do everything possible to ensure they arrive unharmed. This includes providing a safe environment for people to explore the vessel, providing safe provisions, and being prepared in the event that an emergency occurs.


Vessel owners and operators face unique challenges in protecting their passengers, not the least of which is the fact that the vessel is isolated when out at sea. While a vessel may have sophisticated medical resources on board, it is still hundreds, or even thousands of miles away from the nearest hospital, so even minor injuries can progress to medical emergencies if response to an accident is poor. This is one reason why maritime workers have some of the riskiest jobs in the world, and why employers are held to a higher degree of liability in protecting their maritime workers.

When tragedy does strike and a ship is linked to the death of a passenger or worker, it is often due to one of a handful of factors
. They include:

  • Poor safety measures around the edges of decks. Guardrails have to be tall enough to prevent people from falling off the edges of the deck, and decking must be built from materials that do not get overly slippery when wet, as passengers or workers may fall off the vessel if they have to constantly navigate slick surfaces.
  • Poor layout or design. It seems that designers and builders often forget that every vessel, no matter its size, is not perfectly stable while in operation. Steep, winding staircases and areas with unsecured items present imminent danger to passengers and workers, and though this danger may not be apparent until the vessel is subjected to rough weather, it’s still something that must be considered by the shipbuilder.
  • Not observing health regulations. Cruise liners must take steps to prevent foodborne pathogens, including storing and preparing the food properly. While the vast majority of foodborne illnesses are not life-threatening, a case of botulism, for example, can be. Also, Legionnaire’s disease is something to be aware of on cruise liners, as the disease is caused by a form of bacteria that lives in warm water, such as the water in hot tubs. With proper plumbing design, it’s not a significant threat, but Legionnaire’s disease is potentially fatal, so passengers must be protected from it by all means.
  • Lack of disaster preparation. Cruise liners and commercial vessels alike must have emergency procedures in place in the event of an accident, including maintaining emergency medical equipment and lifeboats should the vessel begin sinking.

Vessel owners, builders and operators must do everything in their power to keep workers and passengers safe from harm. When they fail to do so, their negligence can produce tragic outcomes. And an attorney can help the victim’s family fight back against that negligence to secure some closure.