Miami-Dade Jury Hits Royal Caribbean with $6.2 Million Verdict

Today, a jury here in Miami, Florida returned a verdict over $6,200,000 on behalf of a seriously injured crew member.

The crew members is from Haiti and worked as a cleaner on the Jewel of the Seas

He sustained a serious back injury due to the repetitive nature of his work and the long hours which crew members are required to work.

After the crew member sustained injury, Royal Caribbean sent the crew member to Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic for medical treatment. There a surgeon performed a back fusion. The Brett Rivkindcrew member's lawyer alleged that the surgery was unnecessary and caused the crew member unnecessary and additional injuries. 

We have written about the medical facilities in Santo Dominican before. Rather than fly the injured crew members to Miami, where the cruise line in headquartered and the executives reside, the cruise line often sends their ship employees to the Dominican Republic where the medical expenses are substantially cheaper although the treatment is substantially inferior.

We have discussed the sub-standard medical facilities in Santo Domingo before. A jury in Miami previously returned a $1,000,000 verdict for a Celebrity crew member who underwent a crippling, unnecessary pacemaker surgery.   

Royal Caribbean tries to save money by keeping its ill and injured crew members out of Miami, and this is often the result. Read: Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft

Royal Caribbean reportedly made no settlement offer before trial.

The jury returned a verdict for the crew member finding that Royal Caribbean was negligent under the Jones Act, the vessel was unseaworthy, and the cruise line failed to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment. 

The crew member was represented by Miami maritime lawyer Brett Rivkind, photo above.

The total verdict was in the amount of $6,282,261.

The cruise lawyer was defended by defense lawyer David Horr.

Life Below Deck 4: What Passengers Don't Know & the Cruise Lines Won't Tell Them

Former cruise ship performer and soon-to-be-lawyer Danielle Gauer returns for another inside look at the cruise industry. You can read Danielle's prior articles about life as a cruise ship dancer here and what Canadians should know about cruising here.  Thanks Danielle for another great blog: 

Many cruise ship passengers wonder where the crew lives and what it's like “down below.”

Beneath the beautifully decorated lounges, restaurants, art galleries and shops is another city with its own rules and hierarchical structure. The jobs on a cruise ship are pretty much based on nationality which designates the type of living arrangement that crew member will have. Because the "lowest" jobs on the totem pole are the cleaners, those employees are usually situated on the lowest deck of the ship, in shared cabins with a communal washroom and shower to be shared with those living in that Cruise Ship Crew Barparticular corridor.

The type of job also determines status in the crew hierarchy.  Hierarchy determines crew privileges and the kind of unspoken social rules that they must follow. As a dancer, I was considered a “non-striped” officer. As a result I was allowed to go in the guest areas of the ship, have a drink in a lounge, go to the top deck and sunbathe, and watch other entertainers on nights I wasn’t working. My “status” also permitted me to "hang out" with the high ranking officers who lived on the upper decks of the ship.

A cabin steward would not dare to try and socialize with an officer, and vice versa. There are cases where male officers would “shack up” with low ranking employees for the duration of their contract. The officer coin the subordinate crew member as their “mistress.”

For those who followed the Costa Concordia disaster, you may recall the good captain and his girlfriend. That is business as usual. 

The majority of crew members do not have any special privileges. These crew members include the cabin stewards and waiters who are predominantly Indonesian or Filipino, and who work 12-15 hours a day for little money. They are lucky to get time off in port to call home to their loved ones, as satellite calling cards on the ship can be quite expensive ($20 for 17 minutes of talk time back in 2006).

But the real question is . . .  what happens after work and the passengers are out of sight?

Usually located on deck 3 or on the “I-95” (the term is used to describe the main deck or “corridor” of the crew area), the general crew bar is open to all crew members. This means that even the highest Cruise Ship Bar ranked officers can party with the lowest men and women on the totem pole. There is also an Officer’s Bar which is designated to only the officers on the ship.

Aside from blatant segregation, the crew bar is alive with music and cheap booze, allowing crew members to party and get “tanked” till the early hours of the morning. The bartender working in the crew bar typically works on the ship in another capacity during the regular work day, but takes on the responsibility to get his/her fellow crew members liquored up so that they can actually enjoy their time on board the ship.

With lots of alcohol inevitably comes inappropriate behaviors involving both passengers and crew members. Much of this misconduct flies well below the radar. The only concern for the crew members is when they wake up with a hangover the next morning, or they find themselves terminated following an alcohol test. With that said, this is a risk that many crew members see worth taking.

I guess the common phrase still holds true, what happens in the crew bar stays in the crew bar . . . 

Crew Medical Care: 3 Recommendations to the Cruise Lines

Here's another great guest bog by one of our attorneys here at Cruise Law, Charles Gourlis, who takes a look at cruise line medical care for ship employees: 

Not all cruise lines are made equal. Some provide adequate medical treatment to their injured crew members, but there are several cruise lines that just won’t get “on board” (pun intended).

I try to live up to the saying, “Don’t Just Complain, Do Something About It!” So, in that spirit, I have a few recommendations for our friends at the cruise lines. My recommendations:

1. Invest in Quality Shipboard Physicians

Most shipboard doctors either were not qualified to attend medical school in the U.S. and are not licensed in the U.S. Most cruise lines hire non-U.S. doctors because it’s cheaper than hiring U.S. Cruise Ship Medical Caredoctors. If shipowners paid their doctors salaries that were competitive with U.S. salaries, they would attract better-trained physicians. The quality of care would improve, diagnoses would become more accurate, and more serious injuries & illnesses would be prevented.

2. Bring Your Crew Members to Miami for Treatment

Most injured crew members are repatriated to their home country to receive medical treatment from doctors in their home country. This presents the same problem as problem number one. By bringing ill or injured crew to Miami for immediate treatment, all examinations, tests, and doctor’s visits are conducted by U.S. physicians here in Miami. Again, the quality of care would improve, the amount of care needed would decrease as American physicians more precisely diagnose conditions and deliver timely treatment, the need for drawn-out care would decrease.

3. Pay Your Crew Members, Not Your Defense Lawyers

As I outlined in my first guest bog post, most crew members sue only after the cruise line stops paying maintenance & cure and the crew member becomes destitute. The cruise line could prevent problems by coordinating with its local agents to ensure that all injured crew members receive maintenance payments on a timely basis every month and are promptly scheduled for medical appointments. As a result, thousands of crew members don’t languish at home while the defense lawyers for the cruise line earn their holiday bonus defending the cruise line.

Following these recommendations, the cruise lines could actually save the cruise line millions of dollars a year in needless medical and legal expenses. If the human factor wan’t a compelling enough reason to change the business practices, dozen’t saving money make a strong business case for pro-active medical treatment?

 

Photo credit: Pullmantur.es

Jury Hits Celebrity Cruises with $1,000,000 Verdict for Unnecessary Pacemaker Surgery

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 Medical Treatment in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic?  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.

Long Hours, Repetitive Injuries & Bad Medical Care Plague Royal Caribbean Crewmembers

Royal Caribbean Crewmembers - Miami Florida Cruise LawyerWe just settled a case we filed on behalf of a Jamaican crewmember who sustained a wrist injury while working as a cleaner aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  She is now able to support her two boys back in Ocho Rios (photo left). 

Her job responsibilities involved cleaning every single public lady bathroom on the cruise ship (around 30).  Mopping the floors, scrubbing the toilets, wiping the stalls and mirrors, every day of the week - Saturdays and Sundays included of course.  In addition, every embarkation day she was required to deliver hundreds of bags luggage from the elevators to the passengers' cabins.

She developed a painful and debilitating wrist injury.  She went to the ship doctor who gave her Ibuprofen and a sling to wear.  She then returned to full time duty wearing a sling.  I don't know how a one armed cleaner can possibly clean 30 bathrooms every day of the week and then carry hundreds of pieces of luggage on top of that.  Her salary was around $550 a month.

Royal Caribbean eventually sent her back to Jamaica.  Two general surgeons ended up operating on her wrist.  What they did exactly no one knows because neither one of these doctors prepared an operative report.  There are no hand specialists anywhere in Jamaica.  The crewmember's pain, numbness, swelling and limited motion did not improve.  Shortly after the second surgery and without ever providing physical therapy, the cruise line terminated her medical treatment and stopped paying the $12 a day daily stipend.  

After she called and explained her predicament, we filed suit, arranged for her to obtain a tourist visa, and then flew her to Miami for treatment with a U.S. board certified hand specialist.  After around $60,000 of medical care we forced the cruise line to pay, her symptoms finally resolved. We can't mention the amount of her settlement because the cruise line requires a confidentiality agreement regarding the settlement figure, but we can state that she was happy and, most importantly, pain free when she went home.

Cleaners, waiters, and cabin attendants work insane hours on Royal Caribbean ships.  Working 12 hours a Royal Caribbean Crew - Injuries - Accidents day minimum and up to 16 hours on embarkation day, they are instructed not to report more than 10 to 11 hours of work on their times sheets.

The human body is not designed to perform hard manual labor over 330 hours a month. 

Repetitive injuries to waiters who carry trays weighing 50 pounds or more are common.  Neck injuries, disc herniations in the low back, and rotator cuff injuries in the shoulder are common.  Then the cruise line sends these hard working employees to the four corners of the earth to receive bad medical care.         

The photo to the right is of another Jamaican client who sustained a severe wrist injury working as a cleaner on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  My partner, Lisa O'Neill, is shown discussing her injury in a hotel here in Miami.  My partner does not like to be mentioned on this blog, but she is the backbone of the team which we have who cares for injured crewmembers.   A substantial part of our law practice is flying injured Royal Caribbean crewmembers back to Miami for medical treatment which the cruise line refuses to provide.      

 

Photo credits:  Jim Walker

Cruise Law Visits Montego Bay Jamaica

Falmouth Jamaica - Royal CaribbeanI just returned from a three day trip to Montego Bay. 

My co-counsel, Jonathan Aronson, and I met with several of our clients who were seriously injured while working for Miami based cruise lines and have been languishing in Jamaica after being dumped back at home.  Seeing our clients, in their local communities, with their kids, brings a sense of reality and urgency to our relationship with them.   

We visited the port in Freeport / Montego Bay, the new Royal Caribbean development in Falmouth (more about that to come later), and headed over to Ocho Rios to meet the family of one of our clients who needs surgery after a cruise line accident.

A good trip.  

The country of Jamaica is beautiful.  Its people are filled with courtesy and generosity. 

Over the course of the next week, we will talk about some of our experiences in Jamaica, and the relationship of this proud Caribbean country with the Miami-based cruise industry.

Photo: 

Above - Jim Walker - Falmouth with Pullmantur Horizon cruise ship in background.

Below - Jim Walker - Kevin, with wife, son and Jonathan Aronson

Jamaica - Montego Bay - Cruise - Crewmember

 

Cruise Ship Waiter Commits Suicide

BBC News is reporting that a cruise line waiter hanged himself after being accused of stealing money from the tip box on the cruise ship.

The article indicates that an Indian waiter, Sumith Gawas, from Goa, allegedly killed himself in his cabin on the P&O Cruise ship Arcadia while it was docked in Southampton earlier this summer.  Fellow crew members accused Mr. Gawas of taking the money from a self-service restaurant.

A coroner in Southampton just released an official finding that a suicide occurred. The police had previously ruled out any foul play.

Tips are an important issue for the minimally paid waiters and assistant waiters on cruise ships.  Waiters employed by cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are paid only $50 a month in wages and are dependent on the generosity of the passengers.  Although some waiters can earn several thousand of dollars a month in tips while serving all three meals in the main dining room, working in a buffet or self-service restaurant results in very small passenger tips. 

Deliver the Wow with Royal Caribbean's Insta-Grin!

Working on cruise ships can be tough.  Long hours, no days off, cramped crew cabins, and demanding guests.  This much stress can place a frown on anyone's face.  But remember, it's part of your job to always "Deliver the Wow!"  So when you feel blue and are afraid that your supervisor may fire you for not acting happy, there is now a solution - the Royal Caribbean Insta-Grin

Buy one today!!  

 

 

Video credit:    YouTube (caldaye)

Crew Member Cafes and Calling Stations

Florida Today has a nice article about a topic that most passengers don't know much about - cafes and "calling stations" which cater to crew members and are operated by former crew members.

"Cruise Crews Find Love, and Everything Else, at 'Matt-Mart" by reporter Keilani Best focuses on former crew member Zvonimir Matkovic who used to work as a busboy and waiter for Premier Cruise Line.  In 1999 he incorporated Europe Crew Corner, L.C. at the Merritt Square Mall in Port Canaveral, Florida to serve crew members who sail into Port Canaveral.  His store provides telephone and internet services Port Canaveral - Crew Storeand sells European food, beverages, magazines and more.

Stores like this are often called "crew stations" or "calling card" stations.  They developed because of the inadequate facilities at the port for crew members.  When crew members disembark the crew ships, there are only a few pay phones and long lines and no place to relax.  The planners of the hundred-million-dollar port facilities have traditionally given no thought to designing the ports to provide services for hard working crew members. 

Enterprising former crew members like Mr. Matkovic provide a real service for crew members by opening stores nears the ports where they sell phone cards & internet services and provide a comfortable place for the ship employees to sit and relax.  The crew members can enjoy an espresso while using the internet or telephone to re-connect with family and friends before they have to return to the cruise ship.    

One of my friends and former clients, June Tunay, opened a crew store called the "I-95" crew station in Key West after working 14 years for Royal Caribbean.