A recently filed lawsuit is putting the spotlight on the cruise line industry. In late April, news broke that Celebrity Cruises had stored a deceased passenger inside the ship’s drink cooler for days. When the ship returned from the Caribbean to Fort Lauderdale in mid-August of last year, the body of the man was allegedly badly decomposed as the drink cooler was not cold enough for storing a body.
The gruesome details are spelled out in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami by the man’s widow, his two daughters, and his three grandchildren. California Personal Injury Attorney Frederick W. Penney discussed the headline-making case on his show Radio Law Talk.
The incident is far from the only one to make the news in recent years. Following several high-profile cases in which passengers died due to alleged subpar medical care onboard, CBS highlighted the lack of standards for health care professionals on cruise ships.
Cruise Line Lawsuit: Family Seeks $1 million in Damages
In this particular case, the married couple of 55 years boarded Celebrity Equinox for a cruise to Eastern Caribbean. But on Aug. 15, 2022, the man passed away from heart complications. The complaint says his 78-year-old widow was then given a choice — the cruise ship could either store the body in the ship’s onboard morgue until the end of the trip or she could disembark in San Juan where she would have to remain alone until the body had been autopsied and embalmed. She chose to stay on the ship.
But rather than placing the body in the morgue, the suit says the deceased husband and grandfather was “callously and casually left in a beverage cooler, stripping him of his dignity in the sacred time just after his passing.”
When the ship finally reached Fort Lauderdale, a sheriff’s office deputy and funeral home employee found the body in a bag on a pallet on the floor of a drink cooler. The body was “horrifically decomposed,” a visual that caused his widow “extreme trauma” and prevented the family from having an open-casket funeral. The family is now seeking $1 million in damages. Celebrity Cruises has declined to comment, citing the “sensitivity of the alleged facts and out of respect for the family.”
Landmark Case Removed Cruise Line Protections
The case is one of several recent incidents with a serious outcome. Between 2000 and 2019, approximately 623 people died onboard cruise ships as a result of primarily cardiac arrest and accidental fall overboard. In some instances, the injury or fatality was due to alleged medical malpractice and resulted in lawsuits. A few examples are as follows:
- In 2020, the parents of a nine-month-old girl sued Royal Caribbean after their daughter had to have her arm amputated due to an infection that the ship’s medical staff allegedly failed to properly diagnose and treat. The parents say they repeatedly asked the medical staff to evacuate their daughter to a hospital, but their requests were denied.
- In 2019, Norwegian Cruise Lines settled a lawsuit filed by a 13-year-old girl who was prescribed the wrong medication by one of the cruise line’s doctors. The medication left the girl in debilitating pain and required her to be hospitalized. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and the details of the case have been sealed.
- In 2019, a federal jury in Miami awarded $3.4 million to the family of a 70-year-old man, who died after the ship’s doctor gave him the wrong medication. The medication caused him to collapse and it took more than 20 minutes before he was revived. The family sued Royal Caribbean, alleging that the cruise line was negligent in its care.
These three lawsuits were filed a few years after a U.S. Court of Appeals decision to throw out the protection that cruise lines had long enjoyed. The so-called Franza decision in 2014 stemmed from a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean in which a man who had suffered a severe head injury onboard was not properly examined by the ship’s doctor and died a week later. The reversal of the long-standing precedent was a major victory for passengers who have been injured or killed as a result of the negligence of cruise line doctors.
What To Bear in Mind When Suing a Cruise Line
Generally speaking, suing a cruise line in California, or any other state, is governed by a mix of contract law, maritime law, and potentially international law. Cruises that leave from U.S. waters are known as common carriers. As a common carrier, the individual or entity that is controlling the ship will be held to an ordinary duty of care with respect to the passengers on the vessel. If you’re considering suing a cruise line, bear in mind:
- Contract Law: Your ticket is considered a legal contract and often includes terms and conditions about how and where a lawsuit can be filed. Many cruise lines specify in their contracts that lawsuits must be filed in a specific jurisdiction, often Florida where many of them are headquartered.
- Maritime Law: Also known as admiralty law, this is the body of laws, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters, such as shipping or offenses occurring on open water. Maritime law traditionally focuses on oceanic issues, but it may also apply to domestic waters, such as lakes and rivers, when it comes to navigable waters used for commerce.
- California State Law: If the ticket contract allows for lawsuits to be filed in California, or if a court determines that California is an appropriate jurisdiction, then California state law might apply to some aspects of the lawsuit. This could include laws related to consumer protection or personal injury, for example.
- International Law: If the incident occurred in international waters or involved residents of multiple countries, international law might come into play.
These complexities require the assistance of an experienced attorney who can provide guidance on how to proceed based on the specifics of your case, including which laws would apply and how best to argue your case in court.
Contact Penney & Associates
Penney & Associates can help. We have the right experience and deep expertise to navigate the variety of factors that may come into play and get the crucial details right from the start. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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