Articles Posted in Cruise Ship Accidents

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence claim for an injury sustained on a cruise ship. The plaintiff, Carelyn Fylling, sued the Defendant, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., after Fylling tripped, fell, and struck her head while entering deck five of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas cruise ship. Following jury selection and the opening arguments at trial, the district court became aware that one of the impaneled jurors, Juror Eight, had a niece who worked for the Royal Caribbean Cruises. The district court did not remove Juror Eight, did not subject her to additional questions about her niece and any potential for bias, and permitted her to deliberate, even though there were enough jurors to return a verdict without her. The jury ultimately found Royal Caribbean negligent, but also found Fylling partially responsible, reducing her recovery by ninety percent. Fylling then appealed.

Facts of the Case

On March 4, 2017, Fylling injured her head while entering deck five of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas cruise ship. She sued Royal Caribbean in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida for negligence. During jury selection for the trial, the district court allowed counsel for each party to question the jury, including individually questioning potential jury members. The district court did not ask Royal Caribbean’s proposed question about whether the prospective jurors had any relatives who worked for a cruise line.

Finally, the district court asked the jurors, “Can you think of any reason why you cannot sit on this jury and render a fair and impartial verdict based on the evidence and the law as I instruct you?” Only one prospective juror raised his and, answering that he was an investor in Royal Caribbean and he was recused. The district court asked again, and nobody on the panel responded.

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Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in an appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida involving a negligence claim by a plaintiff against a cruise ship operator following an injury on the ship. According to the record, the plaintiff states that the district court erred in finding that his amended complaint failed to allege sufficient facts in support of his negligence claim that the cruise ship operator was on notice for the alleged hazard that result in his injury. In response, the cruise ship operator filed a motion to dismiss, stating that the plaintiff failed to raise a plausible negligence claim due to inadequate evidence. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the pleading standard in question. The appellate court upheld the district court decision, denying the plaintiff’s claims.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger on one of the defendant’s cruise ships, descending from Deck 5 to Deck 4 when he slipped on a wet or slippery transient foreign substance. The plaintiff claims that due to the fall, he suffered serious injuries, including a complete rupture of the right knee patella tendon. The injuries required surgical repair and physical therapy. The plaintiff alleges that the staircase in question is one of the most highly trafficked regions of the cruise ship and that it is flanked on both sides by shops staffed by dozens of crew members. Additionally, the plaintiff claims that several hundred guests and crew members traverse the staircase on a daily basis, many carrying drinks, resulting in frequent spills. As a result, the plaintiff claims that the cruise ship operating company had constructive notice of the dangerous conditions, and knew or should have known about the spills.

In an amended complaint, the plaintiff makes two claims against the defendant, (1) vicarious liability for negligent maintenance; and (2) vicarious liability for negligent failure to warn of a hazard. Regarding the negligent maintenance claim, the plaintiff alleges that there was actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous conditions and that crew members failed to maintain the stairs in a reasonably safe condition. On the second claim, the plaintiff asserts that the cruise ship operator had actual or constructive knowledge of the conditions and that crew members failed to warn him of the danger before he fell and became injured.

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Slip-and-falls and trip–and-falls are common occurrences on cruise ships and cause hundreds of injuries every year. Floridians who slip and fall or suffer another injury upon a cruise ship may bring a negligence or wrongful death claim against the responsible party. While these cases seem straightforward, they are rarely cut-and-dry, and injury victims must meet strict evidentiary and procedural requirements.

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit addressed an appeal from a Florida district court stemming from injuries a cruise ship passenger suffered after slipping on a puddle of water. According to the record, the woman slipped on a puddle and broke her hip shortly after boarding the cruise ship. She filed a complaint against the cruise ship for negligence, and the district court found in favor of the cruise ship. The lower court found that the cruise ship lacked a duty to protect the woman because its crewmembers did not have actual or constructive notice of the puddle that caused her fall.

Generally, in Florida, maritime law governs the liability of a cruise ship for a passenger’s slip-and-fall. In these cases, the plaintiff must make four primary showings to prevail:

Those who board a cruise ship for work or vacation have the right to expect a safe, healthy environment with reasonable accommodations. Cruise ship companies and their crew have a duty to ensure safe transportation, including maintaining safe premises. Further, cruise ships departing from Florida ports are considered common carriers under the Shipping Act of 1984. Common carriers owe their passengers a heightened duty of care to protect them from harm and ensure that they arrive at their destinations safely. Companies that fail to meet this standard may be liable under Florida’s maritime and personal injury laws.

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit addressed a case where a cruise ship passenger and one of his friends assaulted another passenger. The court was tasked with determining what duty the cruise company owed to the assault victim in light of maritime law. In this case, the Plaintiff alleged that the cruise line was negligent because it failed to:

  1. Reasonably and properly train security personnel.

When someone is injured while on the job, it can be both physically and emotionally difficult to recuperate. When an employer terminates a worker because they can no longer work at the level they used to, it may be cause for a lawsuit. A Florida appeals court was recently tasked with deciding whether an employee who was terminated after being injured on the job was entitled to, amongst other financial compensation, punitive damages—meaning the employer acted callously and disregarded her rights by not reinstating her.

Under maritime law, when someone works on a ship, the shipowner has the responsibility to provide food, lodging, and medical services—called “maintenance and cure” if a crew member is injured while working aboard the ship. However, the obligation to provide maintenance and cure concludes when the worker reaches maximum medical improvement.

In this case, the plaintiff worked as a server aboard a cruise ship. Approximately three months into her employment, she was hit by a car when on shore leave. The plaintiff then debarked the ship and returned home, and her cruise ship employer—the defendant in this case—paid her medical bills. She later was deemed at maximum medical improvement, returned to work, and then complained about chest pain within weeks; then, her employer told her to speak with a physician and they would reimburse her medical bills. When the plaintiff’s doctor stated the plaintiff was not fit to work as a server but declared her at the maximum medical improvement level, the defendant terminated her benefits. Over the next three years, the plaintiff sent the defendant her medical bills and statements from her doctor; the defendant refused to reinstate her benefits.

Vicarious liability, or liability imputed to another party based on its relationship to the wrongful actor, can provide another avenue for a Florida injury victim to seek compensation. A recent decision from a federal appeals court illustrated an important difference between claims based on direct liability versus vicarious liability.

In the decision, issued by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in an appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the court described the facts giving rise to the case, which took place on a cruise ship. During a ten-day cruise, a passenger fell during a dance competition on the cruise ship. The passenger claimed that her partner in the dance competition, who was a cruise ship employee, released her hands as she leaned away while doing a dance move. She claimed that as a result, she fell backward and hit her head on the deck. She was later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury because of the fall. The passenger sued the ship’s owner for negligence, alleging in part that the employee failed to act in a way that would keep the passenger safe. A federal district court originally found that the shipowner was not liable to the passenger because it did not show that the owner had notice of the employee’s allegedly negligent dancing before her injury.

However, the appeals court held that under maritime negligence law, in a claim of negligence based on vicarious liability (as opposed to direct liability), the shipowner is liable for an employee’s negligence even if the owner is not directly liable for anything that it did or did not do. The court explained that when a shipowner is alleged to be directly liable for a passenger’s injuries, such as negligently failing to properly maintain its premises, the shipowner had to have notice of the risk-creating condition. In contrast, in a negligence claim based on vicarious liability, the plaintiff does not need to prove the shipowner had notice.

As the weather warms up, many are looking to make summer vacation plans in preparation for enjoying the sunshine. A cruise, for many families, seems like the perfect opportunity to get away from it all. Cruises, however, are not immune to accidents or medical issues taking place while onboard—and sometimes, recovering following an incident on a Florida cruise ship where the cruise line may have been partially or fully responsible for your injury can become a murky ordeal.

In a recent Eleventh Circuit opinion, a plaintiff sued a cruise line after suffering a heart attack on board that left him with lingering medical issues. While on the cruise, the plaintiff had extensive symptoms consistent with a heart attack, and physicians on the ship treated him until he was able to be admitted to a hospital a day and a half later. Following his treatment, he eventually got a pacemaker and has continued medical issues because of the damage to his heart. The plaintiff sued the cruise line for negligence and claimed that its medical staff failed to diagnose and properly manage his status. After trial, the jury awarded approximately $1.7 million in damages to the plaintiff. The cruise line moved for a new trial based on faulty instructions to the jury.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the cruise line was not entitled to a new trial. The cruise line claimed that the lower court gave faulty instructions to the jury and refused to give maritime-specific instructions about medical negligence and the differences between cruise line medicine and land-based medicine. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the lower court properly administered instructions to the jury. Because district courts have broad discretion to formulate jury instructions on the basis of correct statements of law, the jury instructions may have been generally worded, the Court of Appeals reasoned, but they were correct.

A Florida appeals court recently addressed several issues in an appeal stemming from an injury victim’s medical malpractice lawsuit against a cruise liner. The plaintiff, a Trinidad and Tobago citizen, departed from a Miami port for a five-day cruise. During the trip, the plaintiff became sick and visited the ship’s infirmary. The physicians determined the plaintiff was suffering from a heart attack and admitted him to the ship’s intensive care unit. They decided to refrain from administering certain medications, citing risk concerns.

Instead, they monitored him, and he was transferred to a hospital after porting in Miami. Subsequently, the plaintiff got a pacemaker. He filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the cruise liner, alleging its medical staff failed to properly diagnose him, treat his illness, and evacuate him from the cruise ship. A jury awarded him $2,000,000 in damages, and the court reduced the damages by $300,000. Both parties appealed several issues, including the defendant’s contention that they were entitled to a new trial.

The defendant argued that they were entitled to a new trial claiming that the lower court erred in their jury instruction. The law provides that cruise lines must treat their patrons with “ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances.” In the context of maritime medical negligence, the law explains that cruise lines medical professionals will not always be held to the same standards as those onshore. In this case, the court instructed jurors that reasonable care is defined by “all relevant surrounding circumstances,” and medical negligence occurs when a physician does something “that a reasonably careful” doctor would not do “under like circumstances” or failing to do something a careful physician would do “under like circumstances.”

Every year, many families travel to tropical destinations aboard cruise ships for the vacation of a lifetime. With so much to do and so many opportunities to relax, a cruise sounds like the perfect option for any adventurous traveler. However, accidents can occur while on these trips. When they do,  those who are responsible can be held accountable through a Florida cruise ship injury lawsuit.

In a recent federal appellate opinion, a plaintiff suffered a severe injury while on a cruise ship vacation with her family. According to the court’s opinion, on the fourth day of the trip, the plaintiff went to pick up food from the ship’s breakfast buffet. As she was returning from the buffet line, she was forced to take a detour because diners at a nearby table had rearranged their chairs. While moving around a busboy station, the plaintiff tripped over a cleaning bucket that she had not seen, suffering injuries to her shoulder and fracturing her arm. For the remainder of the cruise trip, the plaintiff was bedridden. Following the trip, she sought medical attention from various doctors and physical therapists due to her injuries. The plaintiff subsequently brought a lawsuit against the operator of the cruise ship.

At trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff with $650,000 in past general damages, $500,000 in future general damages, and $61,000 in past medical expenses, all to be discounted by 10% due to the plaintiff’s comparative negligence. The total award amounted to roughly $1.1 million in favor of the plaintiff. Following the verdict and damages calculations, the defendant persuaded the lower court to reduce the jury’s award to approximately $16,000, on the theory that a plaintiff’s recovery was limited to the amount that was actually paid for her medical treatment.

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s negligence lawsuit against a cruise ship company. The lawsuit stems from injuries a woman suffered when she sat on a vanity chair while in her cabin on the cruise ship. When she sat down, the chair collapsed and caused her to fall to the ground. The woman sought medical attention at the cruise ship’s medical center, where she was given Tylenol for her pain. When she returned home, she sought treatment for continued pain she was suffering. Although she did not have a broken arm, she was diagnosed with tennis elbow.

The woman filed a lawsuit against the cruise company for their failure to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture, and their failure to warn her of the chair’s danger. She claimed that she did not need to meet the law’s notice requirement based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The woman appealed after the lower courts ruled in favor of the defendants based on the woman’s failure to meet her evidentiary burden. The court discussed notice requirements in Florida personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiff argued that the cruise ship had constructive notice that the chair was dangerous, and even if she failed to establish notice, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur negated the requirement.

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