Court Rules Foreign Cruise Ships Covered by ADA

June 7, 2005 ( - Disabled passengers of foreign-flagged cruise ships can sue for violations of US laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled in public places, the US Supreme Court has ruled.

>In a split decision, the high court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to foreign cruise ships sailing in US waters, overturning  a contrary decision by the US 5 th Circuit Court of Appeals, Reuters reported.

>The case involved a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. over three cruises that originated in 1998 and 1999 in Houston and traveled to various foreign ports. The ships involved in the suit, the Norwegian Sea and the Norwegian Star, sail under the Bahamian flag. Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line is a unit of Star Cruises Ltd., a Malaysian-owned company and the world’s third largest cruise company.

>The lawsuit was brought by three individuals with disabilities who use a wheelchair or electric scooter and two others who were their companions, Reuters reported. The suit charged that physical barriers on the ships denied the disabled passengers access to emergency evacuation equipment and to facilities such as public restrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, elevators and cabins with a balcony or a window.

>Further, the plaintiffs alleged that Norwegian Cruise Lines charged a premium for use of handicapped-accessible cabins and for assistance of crew members and sought to require Norwegian Cruise Line to remove certain barriers that obstructed access by the disabled individuals to the ships’ facilities.

>In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that except for regulating a vessel’s internal affairs, the law applied to foreign ships in US waters to the same extent that it applied to American ships in those waters. He said the law’s own limitations and qualifications would prevent it from imposing requirements that would conflict with international obligations or threaten shipboard safety.

>The decision in Spector v Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd, USSCt, Dkt No 03-1388 is  here .