UA Little Rock student honored for cruise passenger rights research

Madeline Burke

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student won an award for her paper researching the liability cruise ships face for the wrongful death of passengers on the high seas.  

Madeline Burke, a 19-year-old sophomore international and legal studies major from Little Rock, earned the top student honor, the Outstanding Student Research Paper award, at the Academy for Legal Studies in Business conference Aug. 10 in Savannah, Georgia.

Her paper, “The 1920 Death on the High Seas Act: An Outdated and Ambiguous Admiralty Law Shielding Cruise Lines Companies from Civil Liability,” examines how the law protects cruise lines from certain civil lawsuits.

“If you have a loved one on a cruise ship and they have a wrongful death, cruise ships are using this outdated act to shield them from liability,” Burke said. “Basically, they don’t have to compensate the family as much as if you have a loved one that died in a plane crash.

“The Death on the High Seas Act says that families can only recover pecuniary damages, which is what the deceased would have made for the family if the family is dependent on the person who died,” Burke said.

If the person who died is unemployed, retired, or a minor, the deceased’s family would be unable to sue for monetary damages, because the family is not financially dependent on the victim, Burke said.

This year, U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Jim Himes, D-Conn., introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act. If passed, the act would strengthen passenger safety and rights on cruise ships.

Madeline Burke (left) and Professor Casey Rockwell (right) attend the Academy for Legal Studies in Business conference Aug. 10 in Savannah, Georgia.
Madeline Burke (left) and Professor Casey Rockwell (right) attend the Academy for Legal Studies in Business conference Aug. 10 in Savannah, Georgia.

The Death on the High Seas Act would be amended so that families of victims would be able to pursue compensation after a death on the high seas, the same right currently given to airline passengers.

However, if the Cruise Passenger Protection Act is passed, Burke warns that passengers could potentially see an increase in ticket prices. Cruise lines could raise prices to cover the increase in insurance and legal costs.   

Burke was inspired to write the law review by her marketing professor, Dr. Casey Rockwell, who is helping Burke submit the paper to academic journals for publication. Burke received financial support to attend the conference from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and the Donaghey Scholars Program.

In addition to being a Donaghey Scholar, Burke also volunteers at Project Zero, a nonprofit organization that helps children who are available to be adopted through the foster care system. Once she completes her undergraduate degree in 2020, Burke plans to attend law school.

In the upper right photo, Madeline Burke (left) and Professor Casey Rockwell (right) attend the Academy for Legal Studies in Business conference Aug. 10 in Savannah, Georgia.

Share this Post: