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Cruise ship illnesses

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  • Overview
  • Our Experts
  • See Our 10 Simple Steps

For British holidaymakers, the idea of opting for a cruise instead of a traditional resort holiday seems more and more appealing. Whilst cruise ships can provide high quality catering for thousands of passengers each day, sometimes things do go wrong.  If the way the food is being prepared or stored does not meet required standards, this can cause major outbreaks of food poisoning, stomach bugs and viruses.   

Food poisoning

Food poisoning on board a cruise ship is often the result of eating contaminated food, eating undercooked food or drinking contaminated water. Stomach bugs are formed by the bacteria in contaminated or undercooked food and the most common types of bacteria responsible for food poisoning illnesses are:


Camplyobacter is found in raw or undercooked meat (particularly poultry), unpasteurised milk and untreated water.

E. coli

E.coli is found in the digestive system. Food poisoning occurs after eating undercooked beef products.


Salmonella is found in raw or undercooked meat, raw eggs, milk and other dairy products.


Shigella is found in any food that has been washed in contaminated water.


Dysentery is a disease passed on through faeces of people carrying the bacteria, who do not wash their hands after using the WC.


Viruses can either be brought on board by passengers or picked up through contact. Outbreaks of norovirus have been increasingly linked to cruise ships because health officials are required to track illnesses on ships but not at hotels or resorts.


Norovirus can cause inflammation of the stomach and the large intestines, called gastroenteritis. The disease can be passed via contaminated food and water but is typically spread on cruise ships through physical contact with ill people or surfaces/objects they may have touched. Norovirus causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Fever and headache are also possible. Symptoms appear after one to three days and usually last between 24 to 48 hours. A passenger may be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery.

A cruise ship illness can rapidly pass from person to person. The capacity of an average cruise ship is around 3,000 passengers for ocean liners but the largest vessels can carry from 5,400 to 6,300 passengers at maximum capacity if all berths are occupied. The most common ways that an outbreak will spread are:

  • Hand to mouth contact from people carrying a bug
  • Touching infected surfaces - such as door handles, railings, toilet flush handles, food utensils, elevator buttons etc.
  • Poor hygiene practices and systems such as

-       failing to wash hands after using the WC                                                                       

-       lack of anti-bacterial sanitisers / dispensers                                                                   

-       unprotected salad bars                                                                                                                    

-       refilling of water bottles in the buffet area

Where a serious illness cannot be contained, cruise lines may halt the cruise and order a thorough ‘deep clean’ sanitisation, which puts the ship out of service for a few days.

If you fall ill onboard a cruise ship, the law is different to the law that relates to making a holiday injury claim for an accident that occurred at a hotel or resort.

The Terms and Conditions contained in your holiday contract, which are supplied by both tour operators and cruise lines, are bound by regulations set out in the Athens Convention.

The Athens Convention – what you need to know

The Athens Convention applies to EU member states and has been in force in the UK since 1996.

Seagoing vessels owe a “duty of care” in the carriage of passengers and luggage by sea, and to passengers who are either getting on or off the boat.

The Convention operates in favour of the consumer. The fault is automatically presumed to be on the part of the carrier unless they can prove otherwise. This is different to claims under the Package Travel Regulations 1992 which require you to prove the carrier was at fault.

A cruise ship illness claim will almost always be made in accordance with the Athens Convention and not under the Package Holiday Regulations 1992.

You can still make a complaint for a ‘spoilt holiday’ under the Package Holiday Regulations 1992, but this will be a completely separate action.

It is also important to remember that under the Athens Convention, the Terms and Conditions:

  • Only apply to cruises that start and finish in a UK port
  • Do not apply to domestic cruises around the British Isles and the coast of Scotland.

If your cruise departed from a foreign destination...

You may be able to proceed with a claim under the Package Travel Regulations 1992 but only if:

  • There were no ‘stop-off’ ports of call inbetween
  • Your tour operator is a UK company

Time Limit

A further important difference is the time you have to make a claim from when the illness occurred:

  • 2 years - Athens Convention  
  • 3 years - Package Travel Regulations

Compensation Limit

A limit is imposed on the amount of compensation that can be claimed for personal injury or death.


All sea carriers must have insurance as they have a strict liability for passenger personal injury, fatality or any shipping related incident, unless there is evidence to show the incident was caused by:

  • Natural phenomenon of an “exceptional, inevitable and irresistible character”, or
  • Wholly caused by a third party.

How Your Legal Friend can help you

We specialise in acting on behalf of anyone who has suffered from a holiday accident or illness through no fault of their own while on board a cruise ship and wishes to claim compensation against a UK tour operator / cruise line.

With over 30 years’ experience in all aspects of international personal injury law, we can provide you with expert guidance and support every step of the way to secure you the best possible compensation. We can also help you to claim back any additional expenses you have suffered as a result of your illness or accident, such as:

  • Any medical expenses you had to meet while on holiday
  • Time taken off work on your return from holiday
  • Missing out on any holiday activities that your injury or illness had prevented you from participating in. 

Throughout your claim, Your Legal Friend will help you every step of the way

  • Work for you with no upfront fees
  • No win, no fee - guaranteed
  • 95% success rate for personal injury claims
  • Over £200,000,000 successfully won in the last ten years alone
  • Help and support you with your claim
  • Over 30 years’ experience in personal injury compensation

Talk to us today

For an informal, confidential chat about making a claim with one of our expert personal injury solicitors, call us now on 0151 550 5228 (calls are free from landlines and mobiles). Or just complete the 'Start a new claim’ option on the right and we'll call you straight back.

Alison Saul

Alison Saul, Director of Personal Injury leads our Personal Injury, Road Accident and Holiday Illness teams. A fully qualified Solicitor with over 15 years of experience and expertise, Alison is dedicated to achieving the highest levels of compensation for her clients as well as ensuring high quality client care.

  • There are many people injured in accidents each year through no fault of their own and the circumstances will be difference in each instance. Our team has extensive experience of successfully managing a wide range of personal injury claims, so we can help you secure the maximim compensation you deserve. 

    Alison Saul,
    Director of Personal Injury

Back row, left to right.

Marta Skornog

Marta began working with us in 2012 as a Paralegal. She deals with RTA and Holiday Illness cases for both English and Polish speaking clients. Outside of work, Marta enjoys yoga, socialising and going to the movies.

Anita Carroll

Anita began working with us as a Paralegal in 2010 and, after securing a training contract, qualified as a Solicitor in February 2015. She manages a mixed case load, including holiday illness cases. She is also a married Mum to 3 girls (18, 13 and 6) and they are her hobby!

Kathryn Langton

Kathryn, also a qualified Solicitor, specialises in accidents at work, public liability and accidents abroad. Kathryn deals with a wide variety of cases, often including accidents that involve serious, complex injuries.

Lee Quinn

Lee is a Fee Earner Manager, with 20 years’ experience in PI litigation. He runs both Holiday Illness and RTA cases, and has teams who deal with Polish Speaking Clients for both also. He’s a father of one who loves to travel, last year he completed the Marathon Des Sables a 230k race across the Sahara desert.

Angela Shortall

Angela began working with us as a Legal Assistant in 2008 and joined the travel team in 2017. She studied the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) and is currently enrolled on the company’s internal development plan. Angela loves to travel, read and socialise with her friends and family.

Marisol Marriott

Marisol completed her Law Degree in Mexico and has been a Legal Assistant with the travel team since January 2017. She likes to enjoy life with her two children and loves dancing, reading and going to the movies.

Front row, left to right.

Andrew Jones

Andrew joined the travel law team in November 2016 and became a qualified Solicitor in January 2017 after working with us for the last 5 years. Outside of work he’s usually found at gigs with friends or playing squash or football.

Michelle Craven

Michelle has worked with us as a Legal Assistant since 2011. Outside of work she enjoys spending time with her 5 year old son.

Iain McCrave

Iain is an Assistant Fee Earner with the travel team and has 9 years’ experience in litigation dealing with all aspects of the claims process. Iain enjoys listening to music and travelling.

Suzanne Wibberley

Suzanne is an Assistant Fee Earner to Lee Quinn and works with the travel team.  Suzanne has 12 years experience in PI litigation and deals with both Holiday illness and RTA cases.  Suzanne is currently undertaking her Ilex studies.  In her spare time Suzanne enjoys going the gym and socialising with friends.

Jay Singh

Jay has been a Legal Assistant with the travel team since March 2017. He has a Law Degree and has completed the Legal Practitioners Course. Outside of work Jay enjoys reading, listening to music and spending time with family.

Accidents & Illnesses abroad - 10 simple steps to achieving your compensation

For most people, a compensation claim isn’t an everyday occurrence so we thought it would be helpful to explain how we manage your claim and the steps that we both need to go through.

Step 1 - Obtaining a full description of your accident or illness

We need to understand as much as possible about your accident or illness – exactly how it happened or what caused you to be ill and why, the injuries you suffered, what happened immediately afterwards and how your life has been affected as a result.

Step 2 - Obtaining your medical records

We will ask your GP and hospital for your full medical records so that we can establish the extent of your injuries or illness, the treatment you received, and how long it will take you to recover.  If your treatment was carried out abroad, we can obtain and, if need be, translate those records.

Step 3 - Contacting the company responsible for your accident or illness

Once we have decided who is responsible for your accident or illness, we will inform them that you intend to claim compensation and send them the details you have provided.  We will let you know their response and, if they dispute the case, we will ask you to provide your comments on their response. 

Step 4 - Arranging your medical assessment

We will arrange for an independent clinician to evaluate the extent of your illness or injuries and whether they will affect your ability to work in the short or long term.  In holiday illness claims, it may sometimes be possible to obtain a “desktop” report that can be done based on your witness statement and any medical records so that you don’t have to go for a medical examination.

Step 5 - Collating details of your financial loss

In addition to compensation for your injuries or illness, you can claim for another other expenses you have incurred as a result, including lost earnings, expenses travelling to medical appointments, and the cost of care and help with everyday tasks.  

Step 6 - Providing you with our valuation of your losses

Once we have received all your medical reports, we can provide a valuation for your illness, injuries and associated losses.  We will send this to you along with your medical report. You then need to complete and sign the medical slip and schedule of losses and return them to us.

Step 7 - Sending your valuation to the other party's insurer

Once we have received your signed medical slip and schedule of losses, we send these to the defendant’s insurer and ask for their best offer to settle the case. Often the insurance company takes 4 – 6 weeks to get back to us.

Step 8 - Negotiating the maximum settlement possible

We work hard to achieve the maximum possible settlement for your case, which can take some time to negotiate. So we text and email you to keep you up to date with our progress.

Step 9 - Issuing Court proceedings

If the defendant’s insurer refuses to make a realistic offer, then we issue Court proceedings for a hearing.  It is very unlikely that you need to attend this hearing, so there’s no need to worry about it. 

Step 10 - Sending you your compensation payment

Once we receive your compensation payment from the defendant’s insurer, we let you know.  Most important of all, we send you your compensation payment straight away!

How long does a claim take?

Because the circumstances surrounding every claim and their effects are different, it’s very difficult to give a definitive answer on how long it takes to settle a claim.  Often it depends on how quickly our clients provide us with essential information, how quickly we can get medical records and assessments, and whether the insurance companies are willing to provide realistic offers to settle the claims.

Whilst we aim to settle your claim as quickly as possible, we also want to ensure we secure the maximum compensation for you.  This often means we have to do some hard negotiation with the defendants – which takes extra time. Our aim is to balance progressing the claim as fast as possible with getting you the maximum settlement.

We realise that you’ll be keen to know about the progress of your claim so we will send you regular emails and texts to keep you up to date, and also to remind you if there is any information we’re waiting for from you.