When someone brings a wrongful death action in Florida, they will usually ask for both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages are damages that can be specific and represent a quantifiable monetary amount. For example, pecuniary damages may be awarded in the amount of a deceased’s medical bills, or to cover the specific funeral and burial costs in a wrongful death lawsuit. Non-pecuniary damages, on the other hand, are damages that cannot be measured precisely. For example, money to compensate for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium may be estimated and awarded as non-pecuniary damages.
Recently, the Eleventh Circuit released an opinion discussing pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages—and related choice of law concerns—in a wrongful death case. According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose when a Wisconsin citizen and his wife took a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he began experiencing shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary. The ship’s physician examined him and gave him prescription medication. He then returned to his quarters, where he collapsed. He was taken to the hospital in Alaska but unfortunately died of a heart attack several days later.
The daughter of the deceased, also the personal representative of his estate, sued Royal Caribbean for negligence in medical care and treatment. She brought suit in the Southern District of Florida as required by the forum selection clause on the cruise ticket. After trial, a jury found Royal Caribbean liable and awarded the plaintiff $3,384,073.22 in damages, $3,360,000 of which represented non-pecuniary damages. Royal Caribbean appealed.
Because the actions in the lawsuit occurred in navigable waters, general maritime law governs the case. However, general maritime law does not provide a comprehensive remedy for all deaths that occur in navigable waters, and the Supreme Court has held that state statutes can supplement general maritime law. The question in the case, then, turned on whether to supplement with Florida or Wisconsin law. The plaintiff argued that Florida law governs, which authorizes non-pecuniary damages because Royal Caribbean is headquartered in Florida and the cruise tickets require suit to be brought in Florida. The defendant argued that Wisconsin law, which would not allow any non-pecuniary damages, governed because the plaintiff and the deceased were citizens of Wisconsin, and the cruise ticket was purchased in Wisconsin. The appellate court considered several different factors in order to determine which state had the most significant relationship to the interest and the dominant interest in having its law applied. Specifically, the appellate court found that the fact that Royal Caribbean was based in Florida and chose the Southern District of Florida in its forum-selection clause made it so that Florida law was the correct law to apply. As such, the jury’s verdict, including the substantial non-pecuniary damages, was affirmed.
Are You Seeking Damages After a Florida Accident?
If you have questions about how to get the damages you’re entitled to after a Florida cruise ship accident, contact the personal injury attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank Estrada as soon as possible. Our attorneys have years of experience navigating these cases in Florida courts, and maximizing the amount of damages our clients receive. To learn more, call us right away at 877-448-8585 and schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.