In light of recent events involving COVID-19 and cruise ships, many passengers of the infected ships may wonder if they can sue the cruise lines for their gross mishandling of the situation. While the courts would likely hold most any other company in any other industry accountable for possibly contributing to the spread of the virus, sick persons and their families may have a hard time suing a cruise line. This is because cruise ship passengers often unwittingly sign away most of their rights to the cruise companies when they purchase ticket packages.

According to the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, a cruise line ticket is actually more of a contract. In fact, these “tickets” typically contain thousands of barely legible words that passengers can usually only access via an internet hyperlink. Though the language of the contract varies somewhat from cruise line to cruise line, each agreement defines the passenger’s rights should something go wrong. According to CJ&D, once a person purchases a ticket, his or her rights become few.

What provisions, though, may prevent you or any other wronged passenger from pursuing compensation? There are many, but there are three in particular that would make the pursuit of justice particularly daunting.

Most cruise ship contracts specify that injured parties can hold the cruise line accountable for injuries sustained as a result of a ship defect, if the cruise line had advance “notice” of the defect in question. Unfortunately, it is easy for a cruise ship to refute any knowledge by destroying records or failing to record defects at all. In fact, that is precisely what one cruise line did. According to the center, the company suppressed documentation for as many as 34 sliding-door incidents over the course of three years.

Cruise line tickets also drastically limit the timeframe in which an injured passenger may bring a claim. Most states typically allow wronged parties two to four years to file a claim. Cruise ship contracts, however, state that if a passenger sustains an injury, he or she must file a notice of the claim within six months and file the claim itself within one year. This short statute of limitations can make it difficult for a claimant and his or her attorney to properly investigate the incident and build a strong case.

Finally, many cruise line tickets specify in which state an injured party must bring a claim. Since the majority of American cruise lines have headquarters in Florida, that state is the Sunshine State. Many injured parties live across the country or even abroad, making bringing a claim especially difficult.