Yesterday, a jury in Miami returned a $1,000,000 verdict against a Miami based cruise line whose ship employee underwent an unnecessary surgery to insert a pacemaker which he did not need.
The case involves a Celebrity Cruises chef, Shalesh Buttoo, who experienced headaches and pain to his face while working on a Celebrity cruise ship. Although only 31 years old and apparently in good health, a doctor in Santo Domingo inserted a pacemaker into the crewmember's chest. The issues at trial focused on whether Mr. Buttoo needed such a surgery and, assuming he did, whether the surgery was properly performed.
In 2009, the cruise line had flown Mr. Buttoo from Europe, where the Celebrity cruise ship was based, to Santo Domingo. We wrote about the danger of sending injured or ill crewmembers to Santo Domingo in order to reduce medical expenses for crew back in November 2009. You can read our thoughts here. You can read another article we wrote here: Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft.
For those readers not up on international geography, Santo Domingo is in the Dominican Republic, adjacent to Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola.
Mr. Buttoo testified at trial that the pacemaker caused him debilitating injuries and forced him to use a walker. The pace maker not only medically unnecessary but was improperly placed and caused inflammation. He eventually traveled to Miami for follow up medical care where cardiac surgeons removed the pacemaker.
The jury found the cruise line negligent in its care and treatment of its crewmember and returned a $1,000,000 verdict. Cruise lines are vicariously liable for the bad medical treatment rendered to their crewmembers.
Mr. Butto's trial lawyer in Miami, Earvin Gonzalez, argued that Celebrity Cruises sent the ship employee to Santo Domingo to save money because the doctors in the Dominican Republic are much cheaper than in Europe or here in Miami where Celebrity Cruises is based. Mr. Gonzalez commented on the verdict:
“I am pleased that the jury was able to appreciate the level of harm caused by Celebrity and awarded damages to compensate Mr. Buttoo for what he went through. Although no amount of money will ever erase the horror of being implanted with a heart device he did not need, the amount awarded allowed Mr. Buttoo to feel that justice was served. It is important for ship owners to recognize the need to provide their crew with quality health care and to listen to their needs, rather than taking a calloused and uncaring approach. The crew is part of the Cruise line’s family and they should be treated like family members and not like indentured servants.”
Celebrity Cruises was represented by Jeffrey Foreman and Noah Silverman of the Miami firm Foreman Friedman. They declined to respond to our request for a comment.