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.
After opening statements, the district court dismissed the jury for the day. The court then informed the parties that “one of the jurors . . . said that her niece worked for the Defendant.” The district court stated that it likely was not an issue as the juror did not answer that she thought that she would not be fair and impartial in this case. Fylling’s counsel suggested that the juror should be excused as she would likely be reluctant to return any kind of significant verdict against Royal Caribbean. The district court ultimately advised the parties that it would wait till the end of the case and excuse the juror as an alternate if there were still eight jurors. The parties tried the case to the jury for ten days, on the ninth day of the trial, the district court informed the parties that it had changed its mind about Juror Eight’s fitness to deliberate, reasoning that “she has indicated that she could be fair.”
The jury returned a verdict soon after being instructed. It found that both Royal Caribbean and Fylling were negligent. Specifically, it found that Fylling’s negligence accounted for ninety percent of her damage and Royal Caribbean’s negligence accounted for ten percent, resulting in Fylling receiving $75,000 of the $750,000 total award. Fylling timely appealed.
On appeal, Fylling alleged that the district court abused its discretion on whether to dismiss the juror or not. The appeals court agreed, stating in its opinion that the trial court was obligated to investigate the matter further. Finally, the appeals court stated that because the district court did not conduct an inquiry, it abused its discretion by failing to make an informed judgment on the question of the juror, reversing the judgment, and remanding the case.
Have You Suffered Cruise Ship Injuries in Florida?
If you or someone you love has been injured on a cruise in Florida, let the attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada fight to help you recover the damages you deserve. Expenses and injuries sustained in cruise accidents can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of negligence attorneys by your side can make a world of difference in the compensation you receive. Our experienced Florida attorneys have successfully represented injury victims at every stage of their claims, ensuring that they obtain the damages that they deserve. With our team, you can have faith that your claim is being pursued properly. If you have questions about your case, call us today at 877-448-8585 and schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a Florida injury lawyer at our office.