Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Litigation

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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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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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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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