U.S. admiralty law covers more than just injuries at sea. In one case that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a cruise line operating out of a U.S. port was held to legal standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., was a case that the United States Supreme Court heard and decided in 2005. The case is a Title III, or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) decision about whether foreign ships — Norwegian Cruise Line — could be made to comply with the ADA when operating in American waters. Check out https://medium.com/@krisrivenburgh/the-ada-checklist-website-compliance-guidelines-for-2019-in-plain-english-123c1d58fad9 for more information.

The premise of Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd.

The case originated when five plaintiffs who were also disabled, took different cruises on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Spector, specifically, bought premium ticket packages because they promised to be more handicap-friendly and the plaintiffs believed this would allow them a more involved vacation aboard the cruise ships. All five of the people in this class action suit were either confined to wheel chairs or limited to using mobility scooters so greater handicapped accessibility was important to them.

Once their individual cruises began, the other plaintiffs discovered that the ships were not as easily accessible as they were led to believe. They had no access or limited access to swimming pools, restaurants, public restrooms, and other accommodations that they believed should be accessible to them, whether they were handicapped or not. The plaintiffs also claimed that the premium room he had purchased — in an effort to have greater handicapped access — was of lesser quality than rooms that were less expensive, but were not set up for users in wheel chairs. In short, he believed he paid more but got less, just for wheel chair accessibility.

Additionally, the plaintiffs were not allowed to participate in emergency drills with other passengers, and no plan for emergency evacuations was presented to these disabled vacationers. The plaintiffs stressed that this resulted in non-inclusiveness, and a sense that handicapped travelers were not as safe as other passengers in the event of an emergency.

When the other plaintiffs complained about the accommodations, the cruise line disagreed that they should be held accountable to Title III of the ADA. The Norwegian Cruise Lines company claimed that they should not be held to the same standard as American companies because their company was registered in the Bahamas, even though the ships were based out of Miami.

The plaintiffs began litigation by suing Norwegian Cruise Line in federal district court of Houston, where he lived. This district court ruled in Spector’s favor, but the cruise line appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. When the appeals court overturned the case, Spector appealed further to the Supreme Court of the United States which decided to hear the case in 2005.

The vote

The court voted 6-3 in favor of the plaintiffs. Justice Kennedy represented the majority and, to summarize, wrote that the ADA does not regulate the internal affairs of foreign flagged ships if these ships would have been required to make permanent and significant structural modifications to their vessels in order to meet ADA requirements. Since the modifications required here were not deemed to be significant, these vessels were required to be in compliance with ADA requirements.

As a result of this case, foreign companies are required to meet ADA requirements when operating in the United States. This case helped clarify ambiguity created when Congress originally passed the law in 1990.

Get experienced legal help in Florida admiralty law cases

U.S. admiralty law includes a complex set of regulations that are often debated in injury cases on U.S. waterways and U.S. ocean waters. If you were injured or have any type of claim against a cruise line or charter service operating out of Florida, make sure your attorney has an in-depth understanding of the law. Check out https://www.merrittsupply.com for more. The admiralty law attorneys of Barnes Trial Group, in Tampa, Florida, are recognized leaders. Call the firm to discuss your case in a free consultation.