Articles Tagged with “Carol Finklehoffe”

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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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On CBS This Morning, Leesfield Scolaro Maritime Law Attorney Carol Finklehoffe said that if Cruise Lines have deck attendants selling drinks and employees watching over the water slides, it is reasonable to have lifeguards around the pools as well:

This latest tragedy has placed Carnival Cruise Lines back in the spotlight. The loss of Qwentyn Hunter in one of the Carnival Victory’s pools prompts many to question whether conspicuous signage that there are “no lifeguards on duty” is realistically enough to fulfill the cruise line’s duty of care to provide a safe and proper place to bathe or swim.

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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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Article written by Robert D. Peltz and Carol L. Finklehoffe of Leesfield Scolaro, P.A. Published in the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys Journal.

The allure of exotic foreign ports and exciting new excursions form the centerpiece of the advertising campaigns of cruise lines, whether in the broadcast, print or electronic media:

• Parasailing in St. Thomas • Zip lining in Costa Rica • Snorkeling in the lagoons of Bermuda • Jungle trekking by ATV in Cozumel • Alpine hiking on Alaskan glaciers
Port excursions are not directed to just the adventurous, but to even the older and more timid passengers, extolling the virtues of

• Driving the scenic mountains of Tortola • Learning the secrets of the cooks of Caribbean by visiting local villages in Dominica • Visiting the Mayan ruins at Tulum
Over the past decade, the number of passengers cruising with North America’s largest cruise lines has literally exploded. According to industry figures, the number of passengers has dramatically increased from 9.5 million in 2003 to over 16 million passengers forecasted to cruise in 2012. As the industry itself is quick to admit, at least to its shareholders and tour excursion partners, the continued development of new and existing excursions has played a major role in this growth.

Nevertheless, at the first sign of an excursion gone awry, the cruise lines have been quick to try and disassociate themselves from responsibility for their own creations. In an effort to insulate themselves from liability, the cruise lines have utilized a system of disclaimers, which attempt to hide the true character of their relationships with their tour operating partners. These disclaimers are typically buried in the fine print in the passenger’s ticket of passage and in self-serving statements inserted into the cruise lines’ contract’s with their tour operators.

There is typically a wide divergence, however, between these self-serving statements and the facts on the ground when it comes to describing the cruise lines actual relationship with its excursion partners. Overcoming these inaccurate self-serving and inaccurate descriptions contained in the carrier’s written and electronic materials therefore typically becomes the first order of business.

Click here to read more about out firm’s cruise ship litigation practice

Contrary to these disclaimers, the most accurate description of the relationship between the carrier and its tour operating partners is best characterized by the joint venture. Nevertheless, because of the degree of control maintained by the carrier, various other agency relationships are equally as applicable in most cases. This article will discuss the nature of these various relationships, strategies for holding both the carrier and tour operator responsible for their conduct and the discovery which will be helpful in the process.

Holding the Tour Operator Responsible

Although most of the attention in excursion cases is typically focused on holding the cruise line responsible for its negligence, it is important not to overlook the case against the tour operator. Sometimes, one gets lucky and the tour operator is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or some other domestic location. Most of the time, however, that is not the case. Nevertheless, that is not reason for despair.
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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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An investigation led by the authorities in the Bahamas and assisted by Federal Agents is underway after yet another cruise passenger fell off the ship and died as a result of his injuries.

At the time the incident occurred, Allure of the Seas, cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean, was approximately one mile off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. It has been reported by other passengers that the young man was a British citizen, and allegedly fell from the balcony of his stateroom located on Deck 11.

allure.jpg

As soon as the incident became known the crewmembers, multiple public announcements were made over the speakers throughout the entire ship and Royal Caribbean employees began searching for the missing passenger. Once it became clear to crewmembers that the passenger was indeed missing and had probably fallen off the ship, the captain immediately alerted the local authorities of the incident.

Royal Caribbean has since issued a statement saying “a review of the ship’s closed-circuit camera footage observed the British guest going over the balcony railing in his stateroom on deck 11. The location of the ship at the time the guest went overboard was marked on the ship’s Global Positioning System (GPS) and the US and Mexican Coast Guard were alerted. Our Care Team is providing support to the guest’s family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

All signs in the early stages of the investigation point to a suicide, yet Superintendent Paul Rolle, Head of the Central Detective Unit, has shared with members of the media that the investigation is not complete. He said in an interview with The Tribune: “We do not have much information we can share with the public at this point. All we know is a British man is dead and it may or may not have been suicide. We are still conducting our on scene investigations and interviewing eyewitness. We are being assisted by other law enforcement agencies and expect to wrap up our investigations shortly. At that time, I will provide an update,”

The deceased, whose name the authorities have not released, was on board a ship along with more than 4,500 passengers as it sailed from Florida to Cancun on a gay and lesbian-themed seven-day cruise.
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