Negligence On Cruise Ships

Recently, a Miami jury awarded nearly $2 million to a former Royal Caribbean Cruise crew member for her injuries sustained due to the negligence of the common carrier. Teresa Di Trapani was awarded $388,000 for past lost earnings, nearly $710,000 for the loss of earning capacity, $95,000 for past medical expenses, $610,000 for pain and suffering, disability or physical defect as well as payment for the loss capacity of the enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded her $92,250 for past maintenance. It’s a big ticket for the inattention of the cruise line, which ultimately dramatically changed her life.

She first accused Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for allegedly failing to provide prompt and adequate medical care when her right kidney failed. She blamed them for failing to do any diagnostic testing in 2004 when she was treated in Miami at the cruise line’s expense for hypertension and proteinuria. These symptoms amounted to the possible sign of kidney damage indicated by abnormal quantities of protein in the urine.

Her treating physicians at the time recommended that she is scheduled for further testing and referred her to a nephrologist for follow-up care—all of which the cruise line never informed her of. As such, she went about five years without a follow-up. Eventually October 2009, she was on the cruise line’s Independence of the Sea when severe abdominal and flank pain forced her into the hospital when the ship docked in Portugal.

Upon her medical treatment in Portugal for which she wasn’t accompanied by a port agent nor did she understand the language, she received medical documents from the Portuguese doctors that the physicians on the Independence of the Seas could not interpret. As a result, the doctors on the cruise line told Trapani to go to her cabin and rest and gave her morphine.

She followed the doctor’s orders and stayed in bed for 2 days until she was taken off the ship for medical care in Spain, where she was hospitalized and diagnosed with a spontaneous perirenal hematoma, or blood clots in the right kidney. She eventually was sent to home to Canada, where the doctors discovered a tumor and removed part of the kidney. According to court filings, Trapani developed an umbilical hernia and right-flank incisional lumbar hernia after the nephrectomy.

“As a result of the defendant’s negligence and failure to provide her with prompt, adequate and appropriate medical care, the defendant suffered an angiomyolipoma tumor, which went undiagnosed and eventually ruptured,” the complaint said. “At no time did the plaintiff know or have reason to know that she was suffering from this physical condition until her injury.”

Teresa Di Trapani eventually had to undergo medical procedures which amounted to $95,000 out of pocket to help her lose weight for a successful repair on the strangulated hernias.

The almost $2 million covers the cost of surgery as well as all of the other ailments listed above. The specific suit she filed was a Jones Act negligence suit that falls under a federal law in which protects workers injured at sea. Royal Caribbean, which has until November 23rd to file post-trial motions, plans to fight the award in post-trial motions, said company attorney Jerry Hamilton of Hamilton Miller & Birthisel in Miami [1].

The Jones Act

The Jones Act is federal legislation that protects American workers injured at sea. It also is referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, this law allows qualifying sailors who have been involved in accidents or become sick while performing their duties to recover compensation from their employers [2].

The most important benefit for those who qualify under the Jones Act is the ability to bring a negligence lawsuit against their employer. In contrast, most land-based employers are covered by workers compensation, which allowed injured employees to recover a limited amount of damages, without examining the issue of fault as explained in their contracts. This may provide a degree of certainty, but without the chance to prove negligence, seamen or crew members would be unable to hold their employers fully liable.

Negligence occurs when an employer or coworker takes unreasonable risks and a seamen or crew member is injured as a result. The wrongfulness of the conduct is highly relevant, and helps determine how much money the seaman or crew member will receive. These lawsuits not only compensate the victim, but they also deter employers from ignoring the safety of their workers.

Once an injured seamen or crew member has established negligence, he or she can ask the jury to award several types of damages. These fall into two categories, economic and non-economic, economic damages compensate for things like past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity. Non-economic damages are meant to pay for pain and suffering, and to punish the employer in cases involving egregious conduct [3].

Examples of Negligence or Liability on a Cruise Ship

If you are injured at sea or a port of call, you should report the incident immediately; get names and contact information of any passengers or crew who can back your claim; obtain written eyewitness statements; take photos where appropriate; and file your claim within the time limits indicated on the back of your ticket.

By purchasing a ticket and boarding a cruise line, you legally consent to its terms. You may see a limited liability waiver, a forum-selection clause, and a notice-requirement clause. A forum-selection clause indicate the state in which the lawsuit may be filed, usually here in Florida, where most major cruise lines are headquartered. Despite its obvious inconvenience to plaintiffs living in other parts of the country, most courts have upheld these clauses as reasonable. A notice-requirement clause requires the injured passenger to file a claim for damages within the time period sated in the contract. Maritime law allows a relatively generous three-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims [3].

After knowing of your rights as a passenger or employee it’s also beneficial to know the common types of injures that can occur on a ship:

  • Slip and Fall Accidents
  • Food Poisoning
  • Missing Persons
  • Wrongful Death
  • Sexual assault and Rape

Dolman Law Group

Cruises leaving from U.S. ports are extended the protection of federal maritime law. In short, cruise lines owe a duty of care to passengers; however it is nuanced. The duty is reasonable care under the circumstances; meaning what is reasonable care is often the same as onshore but to the extent to which the circumstances surrounding maritime travel are different from those encountered in daily life onshore. Knowing the common negligent issues and liability claims that cruises encounter can help ease some of the differences.

An important fact about cruise doctors to keep note of is that the doctor is not an employee of the cruise line. Medical malpractice cannot be brought up against the cruise line because the physician is an independent contractor. Any alleged malpractice would have to be brought against the doctor in a personal capacity under the laws of jurisdiction who licensed the physician. For Trapani, it was different because she was a crew member and covered under specialty laws dictated by the Jones Act.

While there is much more that can be discussed, these are a few of the main highlights to keep in mind before scheduling a cruise. Should you suffer from one of these accidents while on a cruise with your family or loved ones, please call Dolman Law Group when you return to shore. Dolman Law Group can advise you of your rights if you are the misfortunate victim of negligence. Call (727) 853-6275 today.

Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652