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Leesfield Scolaro reviewed more than 100 maritime/cruise ship cases during 2017 against all major cruise lines operating out of Florida, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (Celebrity Cruises). We are now actively litigating many of these matters. The diversity of results is significant, including a $3 million dollar medical negligence recovery on behalf of a 16-year-old girl from Tennessee, a $2.5 million on behalf of a young boy from New Jersey injured on a ship basketball court. Our crew member cases include a $375,000 settlement for a 23-year-old professional diver who sustained catastrophic permanent injuries while performing in an aquatic show on board Allure of the Seas. Another recreational on board case involving injuries on the basketball court resulted in a $365,000 award for a 36-year-old passenger from Virginia.

docked-cruise-ship-300x169Cruise ships are now floating recreational and theme parks. Their activities range from basketball, tennis, dodge ball, to water slides, rock climbing, sky rides to jogging supplemented by exotic shore excursions. “The industry’s competitive nature has resulted in each cruise line adding more dangerous activities for passengers who are already exposed to shipboard negligence in the maintenance and care of walking surfaces and other pedestrian hazards,” according to Ira Leesfield, Chair of the American Association for Justice Resort Torts Litigation Group.

Often overlooked are the substantial recoveries on behalf of passengers injured during excursions away from the vessels. See prior blog.

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Port_of_Miami_20071208-300x176In the last few months, Leesfield Scolaro has resolved a number of claims on behalf of minor children’s families who became injured during a cruise. Injuries to children are often catastrophic and life-altering. They require thorough investigation, swift legal actions and a complete knowledge of the cruise industry’s ways of doing business.

Last Summer, Leesfield Scolaro reported that the number of catastrophic injuries to cruise passengers, including minors, had significantly increased in the last few years due to cruise lines increasing the number of “activities” offered on board. See our post here: More cruise ship injuries, deaths and incidents as safety practices become more lax.

Ira Leesfield noted in the article that “the experience is no longer the cruise, but rather the activities aboard the cruise ship.” With the cruise industry in a continuous boom, the race among the major cruise lines to offer more and more grandiose activities to keep passengers fully occupied rages on – unfortunately to the detriment of passengers’ safety.

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The cruise ship industry is plagued by norovirus and other multiple claims of sickness and illness from unsanitized standards and crew practices. Fortunately, those incidents are often temporary and transient. However, in an effort to aggressively compete, each major cruise line has made their ship a “recreational or theme park” resulting in more serious injuries, drowning accidents and deaths on board and through excursion packages.

Where is the ship that doesn’t have tennis and basketball courts, Jacuzzis, water slides and an entire array of poorly planned and non-supervised activities to keep passengers fully occupied. “The experience is no longer the cruise, but rather the activities aboard the cruise ship,” according to noted maritime lawyer, Ira Leesfield. An online search of the diverse and dangerous activities for each vessel does not reveal the failure to provide lifeguards, safety officers and crime deterrent, uniform and non-uniformed cruise personnel.

Recent rise in cases through the cruise industry is commensurate with the tremendous increase in the number of passengers and the obvious profit incentive of shepherding the largest number of passengers with the smallest number of staff.

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In the last decade, the cruise experience alone does not work in the economically fierce competition for  cruise passengers which has forced all the major cruise lines to turn the travel cruise experience into an “amusement park”.

Clear examples of various injuries and death resulting from on-board activities and excursions have risen dramatically, as the cruise ship industry fails to provide true safety.   For instance, the industry has refused to provide lifeguards even though there have been numerous drownings in the cruise ship pools.  The industry has added a number of excursions even though many are not supervised and present a real danger and jeopardy to the cruise passengers and families.

Excursions include private trips to islands owned by cruise lines as well as utilizing off shore activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jeep and bus tours, zip-lining, etc.

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Harmony of the Seas docked in Marseille, France.

Frédéric Speich for La Provence

French reporters of La Provence have confirmed that an incident occurred aboard the Harmony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.  The ship was docked in French port Marseille when a lifeboat affixed on the 5th deck suddenly detached and fell into the sea, with 5 crew members inside.  The newspaper has confirmed one fatality (a 42-year-old Filipino), two critically injured, and two moderately injured.  It is still unknown at this time why the lifeboat became detached or why the crew members were in the lifeboat.  However some have reported that this incident may have occurred during a security drill taking place while the ship was docked.

Injuries to crew members is unfortunately a common occurrence.  In the last decade, the US Department of Transportation disclosed that over 1,300 crew members died in various incidents.  That is why it is paramount that crew members and their family know their legal rights when an incident occurs.  For each crew member injury claim, there are 3 areas of importance:

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51hYy2KWKwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_In the mid-nineteenth century, Congress passed the “Limitation Act” to induce capitalists to invest money in the maritime and shipping industries.  The Act achieves this purpose by exempting allegedly innocent vessel owners from any liability beyond the value of their vessel, i.e. “the limitation fund.”  In other words, where a vessel owner is not personally negligent, the full extent of his liability is the limitation fund.  The Act applies to all kinds of vessels, including commercial boats, pleasure yachts, and even jet skis.  Most commonly, the Limitation Act is invoked where a maritime accident is caused solely by the negligence of the vessel owner’s employee or agent.  When faced with liability, a vessel owner may file a petition for protection under the Limitation Act, which must be filed in federal court.

After the vessel owner deposits with the court an amount representing the full value of the vessel, the court issues a stay for all related claims against the vessel owner pending in any other forum, and directs all potential claimants to file their claims against the vessel owner in the federal court within a specified period of time.  See Fed. R. Civ. P. Supp. Rules F(3), F(4).  In a typical proceeding under the Limitation Act, if the vessel owner is found liable, but limitation is granted, the court distributes the limitation fund among the claimants in an equitable proceeding known as a “concursus.”

Without question, the Limitation Act is an antiquated doctrine that serves to deny justice to victims of horrific maritime accidents.  For instance, the owner of a large, successful maritime corporation (i.e. tow boat company, marine salvage company, jet ski rental company) may be entitled to significantly reduce the value of injury claims caused by their employees.  Additionally, injury victims are forced to bring their claims in admiralty jurisdiction upon the filing of a limitation petition, which deprives them of a jury trial.  As discussed below, there are exceptions to these harsh procedural hurdles that must be utilized in maritime injury cases.

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In a special letter to the editor published on September 4, 2015, in the Miami Herald, Ira H. Leesfield revisits the importance of the decision reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, not only for the case of Teresita Sorrels, but for present and future injured cruise passengers.

“In reversing the trial court’s order, the Eleventh Circuit gave Teresita Sorrels her day in court and allows passengers injured by the alleged negligence of the cruise line the same rights as if they were otherwise the victims of land-based negligent businesses.” writes the senior managing partner of Leesfield Scolaro.

Click here to read the article written by Ira H. Leesfield for the Miami Herald.

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Sorrels.jpgWhile on a cruise ship owned and operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, Teresita Sorrels, was walking on the exterior pool deck after it had rained when she suddenly slipped and fell, suffering an unstable comminuted fracture of her wrist which required open reduction internal fixation surgery. The incident was captured by the ship’s closed-circuit surveillance system and preserved for purposes of litigation.

Sorrels and her husband hired Leesfield Scolaro, and sued Norwegian Cruise Line alleging that the dangerous surface of the pool deck lacked the appropriate coefficient of friction (the degree of slip-resistance). They also alleged that NCL failed to warn the passengers of such dangerous condition.

The trial court in Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., ruled in 2014 that the testimony and opinions of the expert hired by Leesfield Scolaro ought to be excluded for several reasons. Yesterday however, on August 4, 2015, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the summary judgment finding that the trial court erred in excluding the expert testimony submitted by Sorrels.

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Last week, Theresa Meuers was untimely killed in a horrendous motor vehicle accident that occurred on George Price Highway in Belize. You may read Theresa’s obituary published in the Star Tribune.

Accident0009.jpgThat day, in the late morning hours, Theresa and Sam Schulte, her companion, were in the back seat of an SUV driven by Tour Guide, Leon Rodriguez (some have reported that the driver’s name is Leon Garcia of Big John’s Tours.) Before noon, Rodriguez overtook an 18-wheeler that was transporting oranges, and several seconds later returned in the same right lane. At this point, there are different witness accounts, mainly from Rodriguez, and the driver of the truck, Miguel Angel Arriaga. Rodriguez told the authorities that he slowed down to make a right turn, while Arriaga said that Rodriguez came to a complete stop in the middle of the road, with no turn signal indicating he was going to make a right. Arriaga told Police that he was unable to stop the truck in time and he rammed the 18-wheeler into the rear of the SUV at great speed.

Theresa and Sam were both stuck in the completely destroyed SUV for almost one full hour before an ambulance arrived at the scene of the accident. They were both taken to the hospital, but Theresa did not survive her injuries and was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.

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For the longest times, cruise ship passengers were not allowed to bring cruise lines as defendants in medical malpractice claims to recover for the negligent acts of a doctor or a nurse when they were committed aboard a cruise ship. In almost every single scenario, passengers were left without anyone to sue. Injustice remained served for years, until today.

In its latest ruling, judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the previous law, Barbetta, was outdated, and allowed the family of a deceased cruise passenger to continue on with a lawsuit for medical malpractice against the cruise line, in this case, Royal Caribbean.

The Barbetta ruling was justified in the nature of the relationship between the passenger and the physician, and the carrier’s lack of control over that relationship. The Fifth Circuit Court ruled that “the work which a physician or a surgeon does . . . is under the control of the passengers themselves. It is their business, not the business of the carrier. . . . The master or owners of the ship cannot interfere in the treatment of the medical officer when he attends a passenger. He is not their servant engaged in their business, and subject to their control as to his mode of treatment.” [Secondly] “[a] ship’s physician is an independent medical expert engaged on the basis of his professional qualifications and carried on board a ship for the convenience of passengers, who are free to contract with him for any medical services they may require.”

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