Court Rejects Carnival's Attempt to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Sexually Assaulted Girl

Yesterday a federal judge in Miami rejected a motion filed by Carnival Corporation seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of young girl who was sexually assaulted on a Carnival cruise ship.   

The case involved a nine year old girl who was raped on Carnival's Destiny cruise ship. The case is a reminder that sexual assaults against children occur during cruises, even when the children are entrusted to youth counselors on cruise ships. The case also shows how far cruise lines like Carnival will go to avoid legal responsibility when crimes occur during cruises.

The allegations against Carnival in this case were described as follows:

At the age of nine, the child took a cruise aboard Carnival’s Destiny cruise ship. She was accompanied on this cruise by several family members. During the cruise, and at a Carnival employee’s encouragement, the child's father signed her into a shipboard children’s program (“Camp Carnival”). The father told Camp Carnival personnel that his daughter was to stay with them until he returned for her. However, when the little girl asked for permission from the Camp Carnival staff member to attend a teen party with her cousin and friends, the staff member permitted her to go. After leaving Camp Carnival, the girl was physically and sexually assaulted.

The lawsuit alleges negligence on Carnival’s part in the false advertising of Camp Carnival, the failure to implement appropriate safety precautions, and the refusal to warn the child's parents of the numerous sexual assaults of passengers, including minors, during cruises.

The mother hired a lawyer in Florida and filed a lawsuit within three years of the rape.

Under federal maritime law, lawsuits involving minors must be filed within three years after the injury, or within one year from the date a legal representative is appointed for the minor (whichever date is shorter). 

Even though the lawsuit was timely filed both within three years of the rape and within one year since the mother was appointed as the child's legal guardian, Carnival moved to dismiss the case as "untimely." Carnival made a technical argument that the one year limitations period began to run when the mother learned of the crime or, alternatively, within one year after the mother retained a lawyer and the attorney sent a claim letter to Carnival. 

The Court rejected Carnival's argument and permitted the case to continue.

The child is represented by David Brill who is a skilled trial lawyer who represents crew members and passengers against cruise lines.

The motion to dismiss the child's case was filed by defense lawyer Lauren DeFabio of the Mase, Lara law firm.

 

Photo credit:  Maxum255 / Wikipedia

Miami Jury Hits Royal Caribbean With $2,900,000 Verdict

Today a jury in Miami, Florida returned a verdict in the amount of $2,900,000 in favor of a disabled Royal Caribbean crew member who received terrible medical treatment after the cruise line sent her back to Honduras. 

The case brings attention to the problem many Royal Caribbean crew members experience when they are injured while working for the cruise line.  Royal Caribbean often sends their cruise employees back to third world countries, where the medical treatment is sub-standard, in order to Royal Caribbean Cruises - Bad Medical Care save money.  This cruise line can easily send their crew member to qualified doctors here in Miami but decides not to do so for economic reasons.  The result is often horrific surgeries performed by unqualified doctors.  

This is inexcusable, given the fact that Royal Caribbean has a net worth of $15 billion, collects over $6 billion a year, and pays no U.S. taxes. 

In this case, Royal Caribbean sent a crew member with a knee injury to Honduras where the local surgeon committed medical malpractice during arthroscopic surgery, causing serious injuries to the ligaments in her knee.  The doctor then botched a complete knee replacement which was not necessary in the first place. 

We have written articles about this particular cruise line and its mistreatment of crew members: Cruise Ship Medicare Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft and Titanic Dreams - Royal Caribbean Wins Worst Cruise Lines in the World Award.  Last September, I wrote that: 

"Royal Caribbean has also adopted a strict keep-them-out-of-the-U.S. policy. The company saves money by sending its employee to places like Nicaragua and St. Vincent.  But these places lack basic medical facilities and basic medicines. The crew member’s heath and life are compromised in the process."

The jury's verdict reflects that there is something fundamentally wrong with this cruise line's treatment of injured and indigent crew members from places like Nicaragua.    

The crew member in this case was represented by the firm of Rivkind, Pedraza & Margulies.  Royal Caribbean was represented by Curtis Mase. 

Royal Caribbean Forces Defense Lawyer to Switch Sides

Throughout the last decade, Royal Caribbean's reputation would embarrass most executives.  Compared to other cruise lines, the cruise line was served with the most lawsuits, paid the highest settlements, and incurred the highest defense attorney fees.    

In 2008, Royal Caribbean tried to reign in its out-of-control risk management department by what can only be described as cut throat measures.  It terminated its vice president of risk management, an associate general counsel, the manager of its passenger claims department and many other long term employees.  It hired two top lawyers away from its competitor, Carnival, and created a new team of five in-house lawyers to oversee the defense of passenger and crew Jonathan Aronson - Maritime Lawyermember cases.  

In the process, the cruise line lowered its settlement payments and defense expenses but it earned the reputation of being a cut throat organization.  Many of the defense lawyers who had been loyal and dedicated advocates for Royal Caribbean for the past decade found themselves abandoned by the cruise line.  

One of the best defense lawyers for Royal Caribbean, Jonathan Aronson (photo, right), decided to stop handling the defense of cruise line cases last year when his case load dropped from 65 cases a year to only one case in 2009.  In the last few months, Mr. Aronson appeared as co-counsel with our firm in a few cases against this cruise line. 

But Royal Caribbean didn't like the idea that one of its lawyers would "switch sides."  Particularly one of its most experienced and talented lawyers, and especially as co-counsel with our firm.  So it appears that the decision makers at Royal Caribbean decided to make an example out of Mr. Aronson and send a message to the maritime lawyers in Miami not to switch sides.  

President Goldstein elected to hire Holland & Knight, the largest law firm in the state of Florida with over 1,100 lawyers, as well as a second firm Mase, Lara & Eversole, to litigate against Mr. Aronson and our firm. 

Between these two firms, eight defense lawyers filed over twenty motions, memoranda, affidavits, declarations and depositions in a scorch-the-earth attempt to kick Aronson and our firm off of the cases.  The cruise line spent a small fortune with this army of lawyers. 

But the cruise line was destined to lose.    

You see, the law is not on the cruise line's side.  In Florida, disqualification is considered to be a "drastic remedy" and is granted only in very limited circumstances.  Courts are also skeptical of motions to disqualify attorneys because a party like Royal Caribbean can use a motion for tactical reasons to harass the other side.

In the last two weeks, the cruise line lost its first two disqualification motions. As we expected, the courts ruled that there was no basis to disqualify Mr. Aronson.  

The cruise line has now filed an appeal - an expensive, time consuming and ultimately losing proposition which the cruise line is committed to pay in order to try and make a point.   

But the point the cruise line is missing is that loyalty between an attorney and client runs both ways.  A large $15 billion corporation like Royal Caribbean has to learn that it cannot abandon talented lawyers without consequence.  And until it learns this, this cruise line will find more and more of its better lawyers switching to the right side. 

 

Photo credits:

Top -  Jonathan Aronson, outside the Miami-Dade County Courthouse - by Jim Walker.