In cities built around water, it is not unusual to see cargo ships and cruise ships gliding through the center of town.

What is unusual is an incident in which a large ship crashes into something—a smaller vessel, a pier, even a building—as it arrives in port, creating alarm, chaos and unexpected injuries.

The incident in Venice

In early June of this year, a cruise ship rammed a riverboat moored alongside its dock in Venice, Italy. A city resident watering the plants on her balcony had a good view of what she described as “a very dramatic scene.” She said that the prow of the ship, which was advancing slowly down the Giudecca Canal with the apparent assistance of a tugboat, crashed hard into the bank, simultaneously ramming the smaller vessel. In the incident, five women aboard the riverboat, one of whom was an American, sustained injuries that required hospital care.

The incident in New Orleans

Over the years, various vessels have crashed into the riverfront in New Orleans. However, none was as devastating as the 1969 crash when a 700-foot-long freighter lost its steering ability and drifted helplessly up the Mississippi. The riverfront mall was crowded with shoppers, who were not immediately aware that disaster was about to happen. Then, the bow of the ship rammed the dock between two moored cruise ships and a casino boat. It struck the Riverwalk at Café du Monde, causing the café’s walls to collapse, as well as four floors of the mall. Dozens of people suffered injuries.

Next steps

In both of these crashes, the people injured had no idea that a bizarre accident involving a very large ship was about to turn their lives upside down. In such circumstances, questions immediately arise. Who is the responsible party? What kind of law applies, and what kind of compensation is available? Injured parties must promptly explore their legal options. Maritime, state and municipal laws may all come into play in complex cases like the cruise ship and freighter accidents that took place in Venice and New Orleans.