Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Litigation

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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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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In its latest ruling, judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the previous law, Barbetta, was outdated, and allowed the family of a deceased cruise passenger to continue on with a lawsuit for medical malpractice against the cruise line, in this case, Royal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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Yesterday, a four year-old and a six year old child were discovered unresponsive in a pool aboard the Norwegian Breakaway said Petty Officer Adam Sansoucie of the U.S. Coast Guard in North Carolina.

To date, very few details were released by the Coast Guard, and none by Norwegian Cruise Lines, other than the following words on the cruise lines’ Facebook Fanpage:

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family during this extremely difficult time and are providing full assistance and support. The family is in our thoughts and prayers and we ask that you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.”

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Since 2010 and the passage of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, the cruise industry has a duty to report 8 crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They include: Homicide, suspicious death, missing U.S. National, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury, firing or tampering with the vessel, theft of money or property in excess of $10,000, and sexual crimes. Once the crimes are reported, the Coast Guard publishes the statistics on its website after the investigations are closed.

carnival-triumph-disabled.jpgOn December 20, 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published its review of the first 3 years of compliance by the cruise ship industry of the new regulations imposed by the CVSSA. Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation gave a sombering overview: “I’ll give the cruise ships some credit, because of the first bill we passed they raised the level of their railings . . . They’ve done a pretty good job on that, but when it comes to crime, no they have not.”

In its report, with respect to CVSSA crime-reporting requirements, the GAO noted that the FBI and the USCG have implemented these provisions as required. The crimes that occur on cruise ships and that fall within one of the 8 crimes listed above have been published when they are no longer under investigation. However, the GAO noted instrinseque limitations on how the statistics would provide any measure of usefuleness to prospective cruise passengers. Specifically, the GAO raised three specific areas of concern:

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When a passenger sustains an injury while on a cruise ship or while on a shore excursion purchased through the cruise line, a maritime law attorney must be contacted immediately so as to maximize the recovery of a potential personal injury claim or lawsuit, and more importantly to not jeopardize the investigation and fact-gathering process that must be done as early as possible and is absolutely critical in litigating against a cruise line.

caution.jpgMost passengers feel safe at sea and are confident that, whichever activity they chose to purchase, the cruise line has done its homework and would not risk the safety and livelihood of its passengers. That misconception has led to countless incidents. Worse, it has led passengers to trusting the cruise line in rectifying their mistakes, or acts of negligence.

Contact a cruise ship injury attorney as soon as you board off the ship
Most, if not all, cruise lines have important procedural conditions that all passengers must know prior to embarking on a cruise. One of these procedural conditions is the time frame within which an injured person must act in order to file a claim against the cruise line. Cruise lines have uniformly imposed a one-year statute of limitations on any and all personal injury claims against them. If a lawsuit is not filed within one year of the incident which caused a person’s injury, that passenger’s claim will be barred forever. Not only that, Cruise Lines have also uniformly and arbitrarily imposed a six-month notification deadline.

The clock on your potential personal injury claim starts ticking the day the incident happens, and if you wait too long, your case, which could have been worthy of representation months prior, could be turned down simply because it is too late to act. You must protect yourself and do your due diligence by contacting a reputable maritime law attorney as soon as possible after you return home from the cruise.

Do not trust the Cruise Line’s claims management process
Many passengers will elect to resolve their injury claim on their own. They will contact the claims management department several weeks after the incident and attempt to obtain a recovery without any professional help. That is the second biggest mistake you can make.

Like any insurance company, the claims management department’s objective is to avoid compensating injured passengers. To achieve their mean, several tactics are employed in almost every single claim:

waiting.gifFirst, the person assigned to your case will ask to obtain a statement from you about the incident. They will only ask questions that may put the blame on the injured person and not ask or inquire about any facts that may or may not show the cruise line’s negligence.

Second, they will stall the claim’s process. By now, the incident occurred several weeks, if not a couple of months ago. They will ask that you provide a copy of all of your medical records, and medical bills, so the claims department can “evaluate” your damages. Some passengers are quick to obtain medical records, but most are not knowledgeable enough and several months will go by before the claims person will be in possession of your medical records and bills.

The next step is full denial. At that point, the cruise line has all of your records, it has an idea of the damages you have sustained in the incident, and it also knows how the incident happened. They will invariably tell you that the statement you have given to the ship’s doctor or the ship’s security staff is inconsistent with the statement you gave over the phone. Or they will tell you that the damages you are seeking are unrelated to the injury you claim you sustained in the incident. Or they will dispute the charges you claim you have incurred, or stress the fact that your health insurance paid for your bills and therefore your medical bills are irrelevant. Or they will insist on telling you that they need more time to make sure their investigation is concluded before they can either deny the claim, or make your an offer.
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The Carnival Dream is the third ship in less than 2 years that has encountered serious propulsion, and engine issues, severe enough to prompt Carnival to seek rescue from the Coast Guards (Carnival Splendor & Carnival Triumph). The Carnival Dream is the latest incident where thousands of passengers were stranded in St. Marteen. Thankfully, Carnival did not make the decision to sail away despite mechanical issues, rather the Captain of the Carnival Dream opted to fly out all passengers back to the United States.

This latest event has prompted Senator John Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, to write a letter to Micky Arison, Chairman and CEO of Carnival Corp., and Carnival PLC. The letter can be downloaded here and is reproduced below:

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In the last 3 years, the cruise line industry has been dealt blows that would have knocked out any other business. Starting in 2010 with the fire aboard the Carnival Splendor, followed over a year ago with the deadly incident of the Costa Concordia. This month, another fire broke out aboard the Carnival Triumph, causing over 3,000 people to be stranded at sea for several days, forced to live in unsanitary conditions reminiscent of a third-world country slum.

Yet, Carnival Cruise Lines, and the rest of the cruise industry continues to strive and attract more passengers than ever. Translation: the cruise industry is bringing record revenues and earnings despite tragedies blames on cruise employees (Concordia) and business decisions made by some of the richest executives who working in the leisure business.

In a recent op-ed piece published in The Globe, the writer discusses the role of the media in manufacturing horror stories, mainly stemming from the Carnival Triumph fire, while disputing that there even was an incident worth reporting about. Kyle writes: “The Carnival Triumph cruise was supposed to last four days, and go to Cozumel, Mexico. That was before the engine fire, which crippled the ship and knocked out its propeller system, as well as sewage and air conditioning, according to the New York Times. The worst part of the incident was the sewage that leaked and soaked the carpets throughout the ship. Other than that, the patrons of the ship were simply inconvenienced.” The author makes several comparisons between the Costa Concordia and the Carnival Triumph calling one a tragedy and the other a mere inconvenience. Kyle concludes: “I think that some of the passengers of the ship need to suck it up; it’s not like it was the Titanic.”

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In 2010, a fire broke out in the engine room of the Carnival Splendor, disabling the large cruise ship, leaving thousands of passengers and crew-members stranded at sea for days. In early 2012, the Costa Concordia ran aground after its captain committed the unthinkable, which caused the death of 32 people. Despite these avoidable tragedies, and the public relations storm it found itself in at the time, Carnival Cruise Lines is reporting steady revenues and earnings.

carnival-triumph rip.jpgFor 2010, Carnival reported revenues of $14.4 billions. In 2011 and 2012, revenues increased to $15.7B and $15.3B respectively. While posting very strong revenues, the company’s earnings are just as strong, posting earnings of $2.42B in 2011, followed by $1.88B in 2012.

Tragedies and public relations disasters affect Carnival, and the entire cruise industry, relatively mildly compared to other businesses. Empirical data shows that the public at large, and cruise line customers have a very short collective memory when it comes to vacationing on a luxurious cruise ship. Since 2006, North American cruise passengers have steadily increased from 9.13 to 9.72 million in 2011. Worldwide in 2010, it is estimated that cruise ships were visited by 14.3 million passengers.

The question begging to be answered is, even if the public’s collective memory fades so rapidly that it does not affect traffic and consumption, why aren’t cruise lines taking a financial hit for their serious miscues? Answer is simple: Cruise lines do not respond to anyone or anything.

Let’s look at the thousands of passengers who were stranded aboard the Carnival Triumph for 5 days in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The only thing Carnival can reasonably fear is that they lost 3,143 customers for life. That is a drop in their books. The cruise line industry responds to nobody because cruise companies have handcuffed their passengers in disclaiming the cruise line’s responsibility for everything that happens on their ship, except their own negligence (46 U.S.C.A. § 30509 expressly invalidates any contract provision aiming to limit a ship’s liability for its own negligence to its passengers, but is limited to cruises visiting a U.S. port.)

Cruise lines know that their ticket-contract provisions are essentially “almighty” and have been interpreted and declared legal and binding by competent courts. Prior to embarking on the Carnival Triumph, all passengers received a ticket which contains the following:

“Carnival shall not be liable to the passenger for damages for emotional distress, mental suffering/anguish or psychological injury of any kind under any circumstances, except when such damages were caused by the negligence of Carnival and resulted from the same passenger sustaining actual physical injury, or having been at risk of actual physical injury, or when such damages are held to be intentionally inflicted by Carnival.”

Carnival also disclaims that the ship is not responsible for, and entitled to do anything its Captain decides in the event of a “breakdown of the vessel”. The ticket also contains a “Class Action Waiver” which provides that passengers waive the right to form a class action to seek recovery. In cases where the passengers only claim is a ruined vacation, class actions may be the only form of effective remedy. The legal validity of the clauses is still an open question.

Under what circumstances could a Carnival Triumph passenger sue Carnival?
Carnival can be sued if its ship committed an act of negligence that resulted in a passenger’s physical injury. For instance, if a passenger slips on urine in the middle of a hallway, and ends up fracturing a hip, Carnival can be held responsible. A passenger, who becomes physically ill from the poor conditions or contracts an illness, will also likely have a valid claim against Carnival. But the hundreds of passengers, who were “merely” subjected to sleeping on the floor with hundreds of other people in hallways flooded with urine smells and worse, will have a much more difficult time asserting claims. Although claims for so-called negligent infliction of emotional distress are allowed in certain circumstances, they are generally limited to situations where the passenger was within the “zone of danger” of physical harm and suffered an emotional injury with some physical manifestation or psychological diagnosis.

Recently, Leesfield Scolaro very successfully resolved a cruise passenger claim after our client fell due to conditions caused by a fire on board a different ship that had left the vessel stranded in the middle of the ocean, thereby creating an unstable platform for walking.
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The District Court for the Southern District of Florida just issued an Order granting Carnival Corporation’s motion to dismiss a personal injury claim stemming from the Costa Concordia tragedy of January 2012.

costa concordia 100.jpgThis decision marks the first of its kind pertaining to a personal injury claim brought in Florida against the cruise line. In this case, several plaintiffs from Massachusetts filed a lawsuit in the Souther District of Florida against the operator and owner of the Costa Concordia (Costa Crociere, Costa Cruise Lines, Carnival Corporation, and Carnival Plc).

Judge Dimitrouleas rendered a 23-page decision which dismissed the plaintiffs’ personal injury claims, asserting in no uncertain terms that the Court was “thoroughly convinced that dismissal in favor of an Talian forum is proper.” The Court motivated its decision after “having carefully considered the balance of the factors against the strong pesumption in favor of Plaintiffs’ choice of forum.” In the end, every single factor weighed in by the Court tilted in favor of the Defendant.

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On November 7, 2012, Kyle Coleman was arrested and indicted in the parasailing accident which caused the death of Bernice Kraftcheck. Almost a year ago to the day, Coleman, 32, was the captain of a small boat Turtle, in charge of performing parasailing excursions for Caribbean Watersports & Tours, a corporation based out of the U.S. Virgin Island.

Bernice Kraftcheck and her daughter Danielle Haese were on a Celebrity Cruise at the time, aboard the Celebrity Eclipse. They purchased the St. Thomas shore excursion aboard the cruise ship. According to the indictment, when the mother/daughter tandem was lifted up in the parasail, the wind conditions were deteriorating rapidly. Within minutes, the tow-line broke due to increasingly strong winds, and caused the parasail and its two occupants to plummet from the sky and crash into the water. The force of the wind and the water condition were such that the parasail was continuously propelled and dragged the two passengers for several minutes, causing the death of Bernice and serious injuries to her daughter Danielle.

Kyle Coleman.jpgSince these tragic events took place last November, the Coast Guard performed a meticulous investigation by marine casualty investigators and special agents from San Juan. The Coast Guard inspected the vessel and found numerous inadequacies, including an inadequate tow-line, and deficient vessel equipment. The master on the vessel was also unlicensed at the time of the incident. Based on these findings and countless witness accounts, Coleman was arrested and charged by a federal grand jury with being responsible for the accident. The one-count indictment is pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 1115. Misconduct or neglect of ship officers. The statute provides in part that a captain employed on a vessel, by whose misconduct, negligence, or inattention to his duties, the life of any person is destroyed, shall be fined or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

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