Federal Jury Rules in Favor of Royal Caribbean Cruises in Cruise Ship Passenger Wrongful Death Case

A federal jury in the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of Royal Caribbean in a Nebraska family’s lawsuit alleging negligence that resulted in a passenger falling overboard to his death. The jury also denied the family’s claim of negligence on behalf of the cruise ship company when they failed to promptly initiate an adequate search and rescue for the overboard passenger.

gavel-300x200In addition, family members of the deceased passenger filed for false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress when they were allegedly wrongfully detained in their cabin by a security guard posted at the cabin door.  Both of these claims were also rejected by the jury, resulting in a complete victory for the cruise ship company, in this case Royal Caribbean International.

Over-Service of Alcohol Continues to Contribute to Cruise Ship Accidents 

We have repeatedly written about the ongoing safety issues present onboard cruise ships due to the over serving of alcohol and inadequate security presence. The cruise ships provide unlimited alcoholic drinks to passengers, which results in excessive consumption of alcohol during cruises. An intoxicated passenger becomes a danger not only to him or herself, but to others on board the ship. Many of the reported sexual assaults and crimes happening on board cruise ships have been related to the over serving of alcohol.

There has been an increased number of overboard incidents on cruise ships in recent years with one recent source quoted as saying that there is an overboard incident “at least once per month”, raising serious questions about passenger safety, and why they are not being rescued and saved when a “man overboard” does occur.  In fact this past week, a 22-year-old male passenger went missing from a Carnival Cruise ship. According to news reports, he likely went overboard. This is the fourth person to go missing on a cruise ship this month!

There has been push for the cruise ship companies to adopt technology that would detect when a passenger does go overboard, which would result in a prompter reaction, increasing the chances of a safe rescue. The Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, signed into law by President Obama, does require cruise ship companies to adopt available technology regarding what is called “Man Overboard Situations.” It has been debated whether the cruise ship companies have complied with the legislation because the cruise ship companies continue to say that the technology is not perfect and that the surveillance cameras they have on board their cruise ships sufficiently comply with the legislation.

While it is true cruise ship companies have video surveillance which can capture when a person goes overboard, which happened in this particular case, the problem remains that the ship’s officers do not constantly monitor the surveillance cameras, resulting in a significant delay in identifying a “Man Overboard Situation” and subsequent delay in contacting the United States Coast Guard for search and rescue efforts.  It has been alleged that the cruise ship companies actually don’t want this technology for fear of the financial implications of false alarms causing unnecessary search and rescue efforts which could alter the itinerary of the vessel.

In this case, the defense argued that the passenger engaged in intentional conduct that resulted in him going overboard. The cruise ship company also reports that the act of placing the family members in the cabin with security was not done maliciously, but to accommodate the family members after the horrible incident that happened, and that the family members were misconstruing the actions. They deny there was any outrageous conduct on their part.

Cruise Ship Company Found Not Liable

The jury rejected all the plaintiff’s claims in this wrongful death case and the cruise ship company was found not to have any liability at all to the family members for this death. The family members in this wrongful death case were represented by Nebraska law firm, Fraser Stryker PC, and a local maritime lawyer, Paul Hoffman, of Paul M. Hoffman PA.

We continue to advocate for those harmed at sea and believe that there is an ongoing danger to passengers on board cruise ships based on the over-service of alcohol. Alcohol sales on board the cruise ships are a major source of revenue for the cruise ship companies. Operating bars and casinos poses inherent safety risks and accordingly, the law needs to place obligations and responsibilities on the part of the cruise ship companies to adequately address these safety issues. Whether the lawyers in this particular case will decide to appeal the jury verdict remains to be seen.