Americans With Disability and Cruise Lines
While I have written and posted articles on the subject matter, more recent research has prompted me to up- date matters pertaining to ADA and the foreign flagged cruise lines. I am not picking on the latter, but it seems U.S. flagged cruise ships have to adhere to Title III of ADA; there is still a question if the foreign flagged cruise ships have to abide when outside of U.S. territorial waters. The newer cruise ships seem to be providing wheelchair accessible accommodations, although I have noted that the cruise ships holding 2,000 to 3,000 or more passengers do not have enough wheelchair accessible staterooms and facilities to move about the ship. The older ships that have been modified to provide wheelchair accessible cabins appear to have the work performed by “Rube Goldberg”. With older ships it can be very expensive to modify an original stateroom into a wheelchair accessible room.
We have cruised on a 5 star ship where the fares are very high only to find that if you take a shower, it floods the entire bathroom. We have found the same condition on an older 3 or 4 star, mass-market ships. In one recent posting I mentioned that the U.S. Department of Transportation has been derelict providing plans and specifications to what constitutes a wheelchair cabin. I have often wondered why the cruise lines continue to provide the bathrooms with the shower in high sided bath tubs. Even passengers without disability may have trouble getting in and out of the tubs. To compound matters there are other impediments, such as the International Maritime Organzation(IMO) has gotten into the act. This results in a further delay for the U>S. Department of Transportation finalizing the plans for what constitutes wheelchair accessibility. Then there is the matter of ironing out ship safety and evacuation procedures, ability go get around the vessel, etc.
The discontented passenger seeking redress by suing a cruise line faced some challenging obstacles. Filing a lawsuit in a federal district court, where the trial is held by a single judge. The defendant cruise lines have been more successful challenging a lawsuit than the disabled plaintiff. The first thing the cruise is apt to do is petition the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that as a foreign flagged cruise line it is not subject to ADA. I know of only two cases where the court refused to accept this logic, but, there still is the question, does ADA extend to International Waters and ports? When Congress enacted ADA they gave no thought to this possibility.
The cruise lines have used as a defense, and been successful that the United States has never presented the cruise industry standards for construction and safety standards for wheelchair accessible staterooms. The cruise lines also insist that the forum clause be applied and in some court cases the limitations in the Athens Convention should be enforced. There has been dismissal of the lawsuit because the plaintiff had no “standing.” Examples of this is a man sued the Walt Disney Line because he held the two ships were not in conformity with ADA ,but he had never been on the ship. The court dismissed the lawsuit on grounds he had no “standing.” ”.
The United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider an ADA lawsuit involving foreign flagged cruise lines but in the past, this court has not always ruled favorably on ADA lawsuits. In conclusion, it is my opinion the mega ships in service and being built do not provide enough wheelchair accessible staterooms and facilities around the ships. On the older ships the staterooms are usually the least desirable locations on the ship. At the current pace, it may be quite a while before the disabled public can be satisfied. The writer is not a lawyer; for that you need to use the services of an experience attorney for the laws covering the sea are quite different that those of an automobile accident case. This information is dispensed for instructive purposes so “Caveat Emptor”-buyer beware.
Actually the US Supreme Court will be deciding the "intent of the ADA in regards to cruise ship accessibility" this session (Spector vs. Norwegian Cruise Line, 03-1388). The DOJ and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals say that the ADA applies to all foreign flagged cruise ships that dock at US ports. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found differently in the above case, so now the Supremes will decide. Although it really could go either way, it will be at least good to have a decision on the books in the high court so the ambiguity is gone.
Of course we don't yet have any architectural guidelines for cruise ships, so in theory they have been providing access voluntarily. The Access Board is working on those, in fact they just released the drafts (see my post under that subject). If however the Supreme Court rules that the ADA does not apply to foreign flagged cruise ships, they will really only apply to US ships.
This next year will be very interesting in regards to crafting the final rules. Even when (if) the Supreme Court rules that the ADA does apply to foreign flagged ships, it will only apply to newly-built ships, so yes, yo will still ahve to ask a lot of questions in order to find a ship that meets your access needs.
Editor, Emerging Horizons
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***edited to remove commercial reference***