Articles Tagged with “Shore Excursions”

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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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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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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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Leesfield Scolaro recently filed two lawsuits against Celebrity Cruises and Caribbean Water Sports for the wrongful death and catastrophic personal injuries sustained by two cruise passengers in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

To read more about the lawsuit against the cruise line and parasailing tour operator: Lawsuit Filed against Celebrity Cruises and Parasail Operator for the Wrongful Death of Cruise Passenger

Below is a news report broadcasted on the local CBS affiliate.

 

 

After this tragic incident, parasailing excursions, which were traditionally sold to passengers before a cruise on the cruise’s websites or during a cruise aboard the ship, were indefinitely suspended by the majority of the cruise lines, including Celebrity.

Celebrity Cruises, owner and operator of the ship Celebrity Eclipse, announced the cancellation of all parasailing excursions in the Caribbean indefinitely less than a week after the death of one of its passengers.

Celebrity’s Public Relations Department made sure that the announcement at the time was well-publicized and relayed in as many media outlets as possible. “All parasailing shore excursions in the Caribbean have been cancelled indefinitely, pending the outcome of the investigation,” said a Celebrity Cruises spokesperson.

Celebrity Parasail.jpgIt was surprising today to find out that, with a simple search of Celebrity’s watersports activities, parasailing excursions are still being sold to cruise passengers.

While Celebrity’s PR Department made sure to that its announcement last November canceling all parasailing activities was published in every newspaper and relayed by every media outlet in the aftermath of the death of a Celebrity passenger, there has not been any news release or news conference announcing that parasailing excursions have resumed.

Celebrity has not communicated to members of the public and customers what its investigation revealed and the steps taken to ensure that such a tragedy does not occur again.

To read more about the dangers of parasailing and prior cases of parasail operator negligence: Lawsuit Filed against Parasail Operator in Wrongful Death of Cruise Passenger
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For any media inquiry, please contact Ira Leesfield by email or by phone at 305-854-4900.

Leesfield Scolaro filed a lawsuit in federal Court against Celebrity Cruises and Caribbean Watersports & Tours, for their respective alleged negligence which resulted in the wrongful death of cruise passenger Bernice Kraftcheck.

Celebrity_Eclipse.jpg
On November 12, 2011, Bernice Kraftcheck and her daughter Danielle Haese boarded the Celebrity Eclipse for an Eastern Caribbean Cruise departing from Miami, Florida. During the cruise, the mother and daughter purchased a shore excursion offered aboard the cruise ship, a parasail excursion which would take place after the ship docked in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Tragically, the parasail excursion which was supposed to be a thrilling experience turned out to be a nightmare for the Kraftcheck family. After Bernice and her daughter were sent up in the sky by the parasail operators, the rope broke off due to heavy winds and dangerous weather conditions. This resulted in the two occupants to plummet into the water at a very high rare of speed. The force of the impact caused Danielle to sustain massive injuries, her mother Bernice sustained fatal injuries and ultimately passed away.

A lawsuit was filed today in Federal Court for the alleged negligence of Celebrity Cruises and Caribbean Watersports & Tours.

As a cruise operator who offers shore excursions to its passengers, Celebrity owes a duty of reasonable care for the health, welfare and safety of its passengers. Click here to obtain a copy of the complaint.

Cruise lines can be held legally liable when they advertise shore excursions while representing to members of the public and to its paying passengers that shore excursions are safe and a passenger sustains an injury as a result of the excursion operator’s negligence.

caribbean watersports.jpgIn the event that cruise lines select an excursion operator and fail to verify the operator’s safety policies and procedures, cruise lines will be held liable for their negligence and misrepresentation.

In its promotional literature, Celebrity Cruises represent the following to members of the public, potential cruisers, and passengers already aboard one of their cruise ships:

“This is your vacation – and with our Shore Excursions you can be sure it will be one to remember.”

“To purchase your Shore Excursions, view full tour descriptions, images and videos, or download our Shore Excursion brochures

“Whether you are looking for a high-energy adventure or a laid back, relaxing day, we have a Shore Excursion for you

Our shore excursions provide the best each port has to offer with a wide variety of activities and options to chose from”

We’ve done the work of planning your day so that you don’t have to – just choose which adventure to embark on

On its website, Celebrity made further representations regarding “our Shore Excursions”, including:

“Whether you prefer the thrill of parasailing – soaring 800 feet over the beaches below – or just basking on those beaches, Celebrity offers the perfect activity for every sun lover

“There are lots of things you can do to make this cruise all about you . . . looking for something to do off of the ship? We have lots of different shore and land excursions in every port

We offer many different shore excursions from every port. They are a great way to experience the culture and history of the various ports of call”

“When you give us your precious vacation days, we give you a world of modern luxury. That means you don’t have to worry about a single thing

“From our exhilarating shore excursions at every port, to our inspiring onboard activities, everything is created with your ultimate enjoyment in mind.”

No matter which of our incredible shore excursions you choose, you will be surrounded by some of the most astonishing vibrant and beautiful sites anywhere in the world.”

Our Shore Excursions will help you discover the hidden retreats and unspoiled masterpiece mother nature created”

Celebrity offers a wide variety of excursions

Celebrity passengers rely upon the cruise line’s representations regarding shore excursions offered on Celebrity’s website and aboard its cruise ships.
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Cruise Ship Litigation and the application of the law is an ever-changing landscape. Below is a compilation of important cases recently published that have changed the law as it pertains to cruise ship and admiralty litigation:

Robert D. Peltz and Carol L. Finklehoffe Leesfield Scolaro, P.A.
Miami, Florida

Robert Peltz is the Chairman of the Cruise Line Committee (Maritime Law Association)
Carol Finklehoffe is a Member of the Cruise Line and Passenger Committee (Maritime Law Association)

Admiralty Jurisdiction

Gossett v. McMurtry, 2010 AMC 2122 (D.S.C. 2010)

A defamation claim by one sports fisherman against another for taking embarrassing photographs and then showing them to others ashore after the conclusion of a fishing trip did not meet either element necessary to establish admiralty jurisdiction. Initially, the court concluded that the tort of defamation was not completed until the defendant showed the photographs to others. Since this occurred ashore, the location requirement for asserting admiralty jurisdiction was not met. The court further held that the claim also failed to meet the requirement that the actions have an impact on maritime commerce.

Maintenance and Cure

Stanton v. Buchanan Marine, L.P., 2010 AMC 2170 (SD.N.Y. 2009)

In upholding a collective bargaining agreement provision that limited maintenance payments to 90 consecutive days, even if the injured seaman had not reached maximum medical cure, the court relied upon a long line of cases upholding limitations on maintenance in legitimately negotiated CBA’s. See e.g. Frederick v. Kirby Tanks Ships, Inc., 305 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2000); Baldassaro v. United States, 64 F.3d 206 (5th Cir. 1995); Barnes v. Andover Co., L.P., 900 F.2d 630 (3rd Cir. 1990); AI-Zawkari v. Am. S.S. Co., 871 F.2d 585 (6th Cir. 1989); Macedo v. F/V Paul and Michelle, 868 F.2d 519 (11th Cir. 1989); Gardiner v. Sea-land SVRV. Inc., 989 F2d 943 (9th Cir. 1986); Ammar v. United States, 342 F.3d 133 (2nd Cir. 2003).

Punitive Damages

Nes v. Sea Warrior, Inc., 2010 AMC 2297 (Wash. Sup. Ct. 2010)

A Washington trial court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend, 129 S.Ct. 2561 (2009) which upheld the imposition of punitive damages in maintenance and cure cases also allowed the recovery of such damages under the Jones Act. In rejecting the long line of cases to the contrary, the court concluded that the dissent in Townsend “makes it clear that it understands the majority decision to allow punitive damages under the Jones Act.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. v. Doe, 44 So.3d 230 (Fla. 3d 2010)

Under Florida Statutes ‘768.72, which precludes the assertion of a claim for punitive damages in the absence of Aa reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which provides a reasonable basis for such damages,@ it was error for the court to permit an amendment in a seaman=s claim filed in state court without undertaking the requisite evidentiary analysis.

Arbitration

In Thomas v. Carnival Corp., 573 F.3d 1113 (11th Cir. 2009), the Eleventh Circuit concluded that an arbitration clause in a seaman’s collective bargaining agreement was unenforceable where it operated in conjunction with a Panamanian choice of law provision to deprive a seaman of his right to bring an action under the Seaman’s Wage Act. In over a dozen recent cases, different judges in the Southern District of Florida have construed Thomas in often conflicting manners. These cases, include:

Lindo v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 2009 WLD 7264038 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (J. Graham).

In Lindo, the Plaintiff’s CBA required that he submit his claims to arbitration proceedings in his home country (Nicaragua), which would apply the law of the vessel’s flag (Bahamas). Although the Plaintiff argued that the provision would therefore deprive him of his claims under the Jones Act, the court refused to extend the holding in Thomas to bar enforcement of claims arising outside of the Seaman’s Wage Act. Instead, it held that it must rely upon the Eleventh Circuit’s explicit holding that a Jones Act claim is subject to arbitration in Bautista v. Norweigian Cruise Line, Ltd., 396 F.3d 1289, 1302 (11th Cir. 2005). But see contra Williams v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 2011 WL 1206820 (S.D. Fla.)(Lenard).

Bulgakova v. Carnival Corp., 2010 WL 5296962 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (J. Seitz).

In Bulgakova, another federal district judge utilized a different analysis, but reached the same result in refusing to void an arbitration provision for a seaman’s claims under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness and for maintenance and cure. The court concluded that while Panamanian substantive law might bar the seaman’s Jones Act claim, it would likely recognize his non-statutory claims as a basis for recovery. Therefore, while the choice of law provision might “threaten to extinguish the plaintiffs claims,” there was no indication in the case that the court would subsequently be deprived of an “opportunity for review” at the award enforcement stage. Thus, it held that if the plaintiff was in fact denied his U.S. maritime remedies during the course of the arbitration, his remedy would be to come back after the arbitration and raise the claim in the post proceeding enforcement stage. Accordingly, the court ruled that the plaintiff s request for relief was “premature” until after the arbitration was actually conducted.

Sorica v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 2010 Fed. FLW D437 (8/14/09) (J. Huck)

Another judge rejected the seaman’s request to have an arbitration provision declared null and void after the cruise line had stipulated to having the case governed by U.S. substantive law, even though it was to be arbitrated in Bermuda. Although this stipulation removed the crux of the Thomas objection to arbitration, the court nevertheless went on to note in dicta:

the fact that the arbitration agreement may not be enforceable because it is purportedly null and void, does not mean that the arbitration agreement does not exist or that the dispute is not one that “relates to an arbitration agreement … covered by the convention.” … in other words, jurisdiction is not contingent upon the validity or enforceability of the arbitration agreement, but simply whether the four jurisdictional prerequisites have been met and the claims relate to the arbitration agreement.

See also Orozco v. Princess Cruise Line, Ltd., 2010 WL 3942854 (S.D. Fla.)(King) (compelling arbitration based upon cruise line’s agreement to waive choice of law provision); Gawin v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 706 F.Supp.2d 1261 (S.D. Fla. 2010)(Ungargo)(same); Matthews v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 728 F.Supp.2d 1326 (S.D. Fla. 2010)(Gold)(same); Krstic v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 706 F.Supp.1271 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (Gold)(same).

Harrison v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 2011 WL 1595170 (S.D. Fla. 2011)(Cook)

Yet another district court judge reached the opposite result in Harrison, concluding that since it takes two parties “to stipulate” that the cruise lines agreement to waive a choice of law provision was ineffective, thereby causing the contract to run afoul of Thomas. The court further determined that since the contract did not have a severability clause, that it would have been inappropriate in any event to severe the offensive choice of law provision.

Kovacs v. Carnival Corp., 2010 Fed. FLW D438 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (J. Huck)

In yet another variation on the theme, the cruise line stipulated to arbitrate the plaintiff’s Seaman’s Wage Act claim under U.S. law, but refused to similarly stipulate as to the accompanying Jones Act claim. The Court concluded that Panamanian law does not provide a seaman with a reasonable equivalent to the rights provided by the Jones Act. Accordingly, it held that it would be against public policy to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s Jones Act claim “because to do so would deprive her of important statutory rights provided by Congress to effectuate public policy.” The court went on to further hold that it would be inefficient to bifurcate the plaintiff’s separate claims and accordingly, granted the seaman’s request to remand the case back to state court.

Morocho v. Carnival Corp., 211 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4316 (So. Dist. Fla. 2011)(J. Martinez)

Still another judge concluded that a seaman’s complaint seeking recovery for violation of the Jones Act, unseaworthiness, failure to provide maintenance and cure, failure to treat and for penalty wages was not subject to arbitration where the employment contract contained a choice of law provision requiring the application of Panamanian law in reliance upon Thomas. In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that while the validity of the seafarers agreement is typically a question for the arbitrator to determine, the issue of the validity of the arbitration clause contained within the contract is appropriate for resolution by the court.

Doe v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 696 F.Supp. 2d 1282 (S.D. Fla. 2010)

In another crew member case arising in a different context it was held that an arbitration provision in a crew contract did not apply to sexual assault claim by one crew member against another, since the dispute “did not arise out of the seaman’s employment.”

Forum Non Conveniens

Wilson v. Island Fees Investments, Ltd., 590 F.3d 1264 (11th Cir. 2009)

In an opinion arising from a case against a resort in the Bahamas, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a dismissal based upon forum non conveniens, which will likely have an impact on cruise line cases involving similar issues. In its opinion, the court concluded that while the financial inability of a Plaintiff to bring a lawsuit in a foreign forum will not affect the analysis of whether the forum provides a reasonable alternative, nevertheless, a patty’s claim of financial hardship “is a factor to be considered in the balancing of interests that bears upon convenience, a balancing process that is to be performed after identifying an alternative forum.” See also Gross v. British Broad. Corp., 386 F.3d 224 (2d Cir. 2004); Nowak v. Tak How Invs., Ltd., 94 F.3d 708 (1st Cir. 1996).

Discovery

Schulte v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., 2011 WL 256542 (S.D. Fla.)

A security video is not privileged from disclosure on the grounds of work product and a carrier is not entitled postpone the production of the video until after it deposes a passenger, whose fall was captured on the video. The fact that the carrier “preserved the video from destruction” in anticipation of litigation did not transform the video into work product protected material.

Shore Excursions

Koens v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., 2011 WL 1197642 (S.D. Fla. 2011)

A suit arising out of a shoreside excursion during which the passengers were robbed at gun point was dismissed by a federal judge in reliance upon an old intermediate Florida appellate court decision, Carlisle v. Ulysses Line Ltd., 475 So.2d 248 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985). The plaintiffs had purchased a ticket aboard the ship for a segway tour conducted on a remote 162 acre private nature preserve in the Bahamas known as “Earth Village.” During the course of the tour, a number of the excursion participants were attacked by armed robbers, who stole their possessions after terrorizing them at gun point. The court dismissed the Plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that “the duty to warn [of foreseeable criminal activity] is limited to dangers known to exist in the particular place where the passenger is invited to, or reasonably may be expected to visit.” Accordingly, the court concluded that allegations of the rising crime rate in Nassau in general were insufficient to give rise to a duty to warn of the potential for crimes occurring at the Earth Village Nature Preserve. The court went on to further hold that the failure to allege any specific deficiencies in regard to the safety record of the excursion operator would preclude a claim against the cruise line for negligent misrepresentation based upon the claimed failure to “fully vet and vouch for the safety record of the tour operator.”

Bridgewater v. Carnival Corp., 2011 WL 817936 (S.D. Fla. 2011).

In order to state a claim against a cruise line for the purported negligence of a shore excursion operator under the theory of apparent agency, the Plaintiff must allege a sufficient basis to establish the required elements that: (1) the carrier made representations which caused the passenger to believe that the excursion operator had authority to act for it; (2) such belief was reasonable and (3) the passenger reasonably relied upon this belief to its detriment. The court similarly held that in order to state a claim under the theory of joint venture, the Plaintiff would have to sufficiently plead facts to support the following five elements: (1) the intention of the parties to create a joint venture, (2) joint control or right of control, (3) joint proprietary interest in the subject matter of the venture, (4) the right of both venturers to share on the profits and (5) the duty of both to share in the losses.

Samuels v. Holland American Line – USA, Inc., 2010 WL 3937470 (W.D. Wash. 2010)

A passenger who was rendered a quadriplegic during a beach excursion as a result of being flipped by a wave so that he landed on his neck was barred from recovery against the carrier on the grounds that the sea conditions were considered to be open and obvious.

Criminal Law

U.S. v. Williams, 2011 WL 1057550 (11th Cir. 2011)(unpublished)

U.S. Customs did not need “reasonable suspicion” to search a passenger’s cabin and accordingly, the discovery of cocaine while the vessel was docked in Port Everglades following a return from Costa Rica did not constitute a violation of the passenger’s Fourth Amendment rights. See also U.S. v. Alfaro-Moncada, 607 F.3d 720 (11th Cir. 2010)(reasonable suspicion not necessary for Customs officers search of a crew member’s cabin while vessel was docked in U.S. territorial waters).

Shipboard Medical Care

Wajnstat v. Oceania Cruises, Inc., 2011 WL 465340 (S.D. Fla. 2011)

In an effort to circumvent the Barbetta line of cases, which hold that a cruise line may not be held vicariously liable for the negligence of a ship’s doctor, Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir. 1988), the Plaintiff alleged that the carrier was negligent in equipping the vessel’s medical center, training the shipboard medical staff, failing to provide communication equipment to reach shoreside medical providers and for failing to timely evacuate the Plaintiff. The court rejected the first three arguments on the grounds that they were barred by that portion of the Barbetta rule which provides that “a cruise ship is not a floating hospital.” The court rejected the Plaintiff’s evacuation claim on the basis that there were no allegations that the Captain had overruled any order by the ship’s doctor to evacuate the passenger.

Rinker v. Carnival Corp. __ F.Supp. 2d ___ (2010 WL 4811760) (S.D. Fla. 2010)

The court rejected additional attempts to circumvent the Barbetta rule by arguing that the carrier was negligent for failing to hire a ship’s doctor licensed by either the state of the vessel’s home port (California) or its flag (Bahamas) on the grounds that no such duty exist. The court rejected the Plaintiff’s further argument that vicarious liability could be imposed on the grounds that the carrier violated the international safety management code on the grounds that the ISM does not create any legally enforceable duties to cruise ship passengers. See also Calderon v. Reederei Claus-Peter Offen, 2009 WL 3429771 (S.D. Fla. 2009).
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