Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law The Supreme Court rules that cruise ships registered in foreign countries, but sailing in U.S. waters, can be sued if they don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires that public facilities be accessible to people with disabilities.
NPR logo

Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4682754/4682755" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law

Law

Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law

Cruise Ships Covered by Disabilities Law

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4682754/4682755" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Supreme Court rules that cruise ships registered in foreign countries, but sailing in U.S. waters, can be sued if they don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires that public facilities be accessible to people with disabilities.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Supreme Court also ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to foreign cruise ships in American waters. NPR's Ari Shapiro has that story.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

Doug Spector is ready to book a cruise.

Mr. DOUG SPECTOR (Plaintiff): I've always said that cruises are the perfect vacation for people in wheelchairs and scooters as long as they're accessible.

SHAPIRO: Spector's last cruise was not particularly accessible. After paying extra for a room that he could access in his scooter, he found small barriers that made it difficult for him to enter the cabin, the bathroom and the public areas of the ship. Today's Supreme Court decision in Spector vs. Norwegian will now require cruise lines to make reasonable accommodations for Spector and other people with disabilities.

In a 6-to-3 ruling, the court said the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to foreign vessels that operate in American waters. Norwegian Cruise Line, the defendant in the case, registered its ships in the Bahamas. The cruise line's lawyers had argued that for that reason, the ADA did not apply. Writing for the six-person majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, `Congress does intend its statutes to apply to entities in United States territory that serve, employ or otherwise affect American citizens, even if those entities happen to be foreign-flag ships.' Tom Goldstein argued before the court on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Mr. TOM GOLDSTEIN (Plaintiff's Attorney): The great, great majority of obstacles that persons with disabilities face when it comes to either the structure of the ship or the price or how the events are arranged, those are going to be covered by the Disabilities Act now.

SHAPIRO: Perhaps the great majority but not all of the obstacles. The court ruled that cruise ships do not have to make accommodations that are unreasonably expensive or unsafe. Major structural changes are not required under this decision. To Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, this seems like a good middle ground.

Mr. MICHAEL CRYE (President, International Council of Cruise Lines): You can't discriminate. However, when it comes to making modifications and changing the structure of the ship, you must maintain an eye on the safety requirements, the international requirements and on whether required modifications would be readily achievable. That's my take on what the court has said.

SHAPIRO: Exactly what constitutes reasonable accommodations will be decided by lower courts. Plaintiff Doug Spector is not worried that his needs will be declared unreasonable.

Mr. SPECTOR: We weren't asking for--to be able to shoot skeet off the back of the boat or anything or hit golf balls off the back of the boat. We were just asking for our basic needs to be met, to be able to use our bathrooms in the cabins.

SHAPIRO: In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia called the majority `delusional' for proposing that only the easiest fixes are required. He wrote, `The fine-tuning of legislation that the plurality requires would be better left to Congress. To attempt it through the process of case-by-case adjudication is a recipe for endless litigation and confusion.' Scalia was joined by Justices O'Connor and Rehnquist. Justice Kennedy's majority included Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and Thomas.

While the lower courts prepare to address the concrete meaning of this opinion, Doug Spector is preparing for his next vacation. He says he's thinking about a cruise to the Panama Canal. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.