Articles Tagged with “Ira Leesfield”

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Cruise lines and recreational activity providers market their products as gateways to fun and adventure, but when injury occurs, they will vigorously fight to avoid liability. But there are ways to overcome their defenses.

By Ira H. Leesfield and Adam T. Rose

Leesfield-Scolaro-Petition-2-300x188Outdoor recreation is a titanic industry, enticing millions of people annually to travel close to home or pack their bags for a faraway adventure. Entrepreneurs across the world capitalize on their regions’ natural beauty and create exotic excursions to attract vacationers. Meanwhile, corporate powerhouses—major resorts and cruise lines—recognize the allure of exciting experiences in unfamiliar environments, and they aggressively advertise and oversee these adventures. But when tragedy strikes—such as jet ski crashes, scuba diving drowning, all-terrain vehicle accidents, etc.—the same tour operators and vacation providers who courted your client fervently try to avoid accountability.

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Tour-bus-crash-01With the main cruise ship companies based in Miami, Leesfield Scolaro has represented countless families of cruise passengers who lost their lives or who were gravely injured while on a cruise excursion.  Whether a son killed in a bus accident in front of his parents on their way to an excursion, or a mother fatally injured and daughter sustaining extreme brain damage during a parasailing excursion, or a husband drowning during a snorkel excursion, the pattern of negligence is often the same in each and every case.  Cruise lines will advertise their ships as the safest floating cities on the planet, but the truth is the excursions cruise lines select for their passengers are less than safe, if not downright dangerous.

Cruise lines will sell excursions to their passengers, either during the booking process on the internet, or directly on the ship.  Excursions represent a major selling point and entice most passengers to purchase excursions as a way of visiting far away countries and islands while the ship is docked.  Unfortunately, passengers are led to believe that cruise lines are in charge of running these excursions and maintaining the equipment pertaining to, or the transport to and from a cruise excursion.  However, that cannot be further from the truth.

In the last 24 hours, Royal Caribbean (owner of Celebrity Cruises) has confirmed that several cruise passengers (Celebrity Equinox & Serenade of the Seas) were fatally injured in a bus crash in Eastern Mexico.  The bus company selected by Royal to transport its passengers, Costa Maya Mahahual, confirmed that they had just picked up passengers who had boarded off two cruise ships that had just docked in the coastal town of Mahahual.  The excursion sold by Royal was a guided tour of the Mayan Ruins located in Chacchoben, which is approximately 100 miles west from the port.

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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 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 • 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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