Guest Blog - "A Fresh Perspective"

The following is a guest blog by fellow lawyer Charles Gourlis who works on cases with us against the cruise lines. Charlie is a bright, hard working fellow. We are glad to have him on our side.

First of all, let me extend a heartfelt thank you to Jim Walker for allowing me to guest blog on Cruise Law News. CLN is such an important resource for cruisers, crew members, the media, and the general public because it disseminates important stories about the cruise industry that often fly under the radar.

I’ve worked alongside Jim and his partners, Lisa O’Neill and Jonathan Aronson, a year-and-a-half and it still amazes me that some crew members receive such horrible medical care from the cruise lines. Some crew members receive adequate treatment, but many do not despite the maritime Charles Gourlis law's requirement that cruise lines treat their employees as if they were their own children. 

What amazes me most is that in the great majority of cases, the cruise lines seem to lose track of their own employees. They simply let their injured crew members “fall through the cracks.” Regardless of whether the cruise line's medical departments are simply overwhelmed and need to hire more personnel to correct the problem, it is a fact that many injured crew members do not receive the prompt, adequate, and complete medical care that they need and are entitled to under the law.

It seems like the case that the cruise lines’ neglect of their injured crew members is rarely benign. I’ve witnessed crew member horror stories that are not reported on CLN which appear nothing less than malicious in nature.

Crew members from Jamaica, Honduras, India, and other nations sign on to work for the cruise lines because they hope for a better life. They sign up for the chance to better their lives, travel the world, and expand their horizons. None of them expect to get injured. I would venture to say that none of them expect to be abandoned back at home if and when they do become injured.

Crew members place their trust in unseen corporate suits half a world away and hope for the best. When they arrive in our offices with broken backs or out-of-control hypertensive, they all say the same thing: How can the "Company" abandon me after I have worked so hard and for so long? Doesn't the Company care?

This reaction is understandable given the backgrounds of most crew members we represent. Most come from societies where a person’s word is their bond.  Most injured crew members don’t want to sue their employers; they just want to get healthy again.

Crew members generally idolize the “Company” in a way that most Americans can’t relate to. They sue only as a last resort. Which begs the question: given the reserve of goodwill built up in most crew members, why is it so difficult for the cruise lines to provide crew members with prompt, adequate, and complete medical care?

I would not have a job if the cruise lines treated their employees in the same way that they want to be treated. From what I have seen so far, it looks like I will be handling cases against cruise lines for a long time.

I'll continue to guest blog from time to time when work permits. Please leave your comments and questions below. I’ll be happy to respond.

Fox News Focuses on Dangerous Cruise Ship Medical Care

Fox News 11 (Los Angeles) has published a special investigation into the quality of medical care aboard cruise ships.  The article is entitled "Cruise Ship Medical Care Under Scrutiny."

The article and video below focus on the fate of cruise several passengers, including the daughters of Ken Carver (Merrian Carver), and the daughter of Jamie Barnett (Ashley Barnett), whose parents are left to tell their stories.

Ken Carver is now the Chairman of the International Cruise Victims organization (ICV) which he founded over five years ago following the disappearance of his daughter.  When he tried to investigate what happened, the cruise line (Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruises) engaged in a cover-up.  He created the ICV to organize the families of hundreds of passengers who are victims of cruise ship malpractice, crime and lack of responsibility.

Jamie Barnett lost her daughter due to the medical negligence of Carnival which defended the delayed and bad medical treatment by claiming that the cruise ship doctor and nurses were "independent contractors" for whom Carnival was not responsible.  Ms. Barnett's experiences with Carnival led her to join the ICV.  She is now the president of the ICV.  

Mr. Carver and Ms. Barnett have both testified before legislative bodies in an effort to improve safety aboard foreign flagged cruise ships.  They last appeared before a California Assembly just two weeks ago in a successful effort to introduce a bill to make cruising out of California safer.

In watching the video, remember that if the cruise ship doctor kills or maims a family member during a cruise, the cruise line will deny all liability and you will be faced with trying to seek compensation against a foreign doctor living somewhere in Africa or South America.  Unlike the U.S. doctor who appeared on behalf of the cruise industry in this video, over 95% of cruise ship doctors are not educated, trained, or licensed in the U.S.  

 

 

May 13th Update:  After this aired, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the trade organization for the cruise industry, telephoned Fox News 11, and complained that the U.S. cruise doctor CLIA arranged for the video should have been given more air time. 

Credits:

Fox News 11 (Los Angeles)

Reporter Christine Devine

Video Producer Heidi Cuda

British Passenger Stuck In Mexican Hospital Following Heart Attack on Princess Cruise Ship

Most cruise passengers who sail on luxury cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico or Europe have a false sense of security.  They think that if anything goes wrong during the cruise, the cruise line will take care of them.  But when passengers get sick, the reality is that the cruise line will dump them off of the cruise ship as soon as possible, and the passengers will be left to fend for themselves in foreign ports. 

So it is heartbreaking to read of a healthy 67 year old passenger from the United Kingdom who suffered a heart attack while cruising on the Sea Princess cruise ship.  The cruise line disembarked her ashore in Mexico where a hospital charged her over $125,000 in medical expenses so far.

Heart Attack - Cruise Ship - Valerie KingThis story involves Ms. Valerie King who was sailing with her husband, Tony King, on the Princess cruise ship from San Fransisco to Barbados after leaving on October 9th.  Ms. King suffered a heart attack while on board the cruise ship.  The ship doctor informed her that she had to disembark at the next port which was Cabo San Lucas in Mexico on October 12th.

A newspaper in the U.K., the Warrington Guardian, reports that after being sent from the cruise ship, Ms. King has been stuck in the hospital and has incurred over $125,000 in medical expenses.  Ms. King's daughter, Anita, flew from England to Cabo San Lucas to try and support her father as her mother's stay in the intensive care unit is now approaching three weeks. 

The newspaper quotes daughter Anita as stating that the hospital is "pressing for payment and the account manager followed us into a cafe after we had visited my mother to ask about settling the bill."

This case reveals a problem that many passenger do not understand when considering a cruise.  We have been contacted by many cruise passengers who end up in hospitals in Mexico and the Caribbean ports of call.  The hospitals in Mexico are the worst when it comes to running up medical expenses on cruise passengers. The first thing these hospitals want to know is your Visa card numbers and the expiration date.  This is in stark contrast to healthcare providers in some European ports, such as Sweden or Norway, where the medical treatment is outstanding and the passengers are not charged for anything.

When reading about this case, I thought of my own family experiences.  My father had a heart attack in London. He received good medical care in the British health care system and was charged nothing.  I can not imagine having to experience a nightmare like the Knight family where your parent is essentially a hostage in a sub-standard medical facility with the hospital administrator following you around like a over-zealous bill collector trying to collect over $125,000.     

Mexican Hospital - Cruise Ship - Heart AttackCruise lines need to warn passengers that if they become ill while sailing into Mexico, the local medical system is designed to suck the patients like a lime at a tequila party. 

In addition to the big bill from the Mexican doctors, the cruise line handed Mr. Knight with a bill for his wife's overnight stay in the cruise ship's sick bay of around $5,000 dollars. This took his credit card just about to the limit and left him with no funds to give a deposit to the hospital.  

Cruise lines should not use their limited medical facilities as a profit center to gouge passengers in distress.

What a predicament.  Vacationing passengers spend thousands of dollars for a cruise only to be charged $5,000 by the cruise line and dumped in a Mexican hospital which charges over $125,000!  The Knight's travel insurance in the U.K. also denied coverage citing exclusions for pre-existing conditions. 

Please take a minute and help the Knight family.  Please e-mail anita@andalan.plus.com and consider sending her a donation of $100 to help the family with this plight.

 

Photo credits:  Knight family via Warrington Guardian

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Medical Care - A 19th Century Hospital?

Today we received emails commenting on the bad medical treatment provided on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships and the recent $2,900,000 verdict against the cruise line for its negligent medical treatment rendered to an injured crew member from Nicaragua.  Here are the emails:

On the $2,900,000 verdict we reported on last week:  "Having worked for Royal Caribbean I totally believe this is justified!  Well done Jury!"

Death Wish?:  "I too could write a book about the atrocities of medical care onboard during my 4 Royal Caribbean - Medical Care - Medical Treatment - Cruise Ship contracts.  I suffered an injury and was sent to see a doctor in Curacao, and I'm an American citizen!  When I said that I wanted to see a doctor on port day in Miami I was told that they could not arrange it (we were still 4 days away from Miami) and I would have to wait until the following port day, 11 days later if I did not want to see the doctor in Cuaracao." 

19th Century Hospital:   "While working on ships we had 1 doctor terminated for downloading porn onto his work computer.  He stated he was doing "medical research."  Then there was the cruise where 3 people died, 1 from a stroke and 2 from heart attacks.  Both doctors were terminated at the end of that cruise.  Why?  Because apparently the nurses had to talk them through CPR!  Absolutely disgusting.  I've told family members and friends that if they ever get hurt or injured on a cruise ship the last place they want to go is to the ship's infirmary.  The "medicine" dished out is reminiscent of early 19th century hospitals, where one only went if he or she had a death wish."

Fend For Yourself:  "I am an American citizen who worked for Royal Caribbean.  I left the ship in the last quarter of my last contract with an injury. It was even tough for me to get RCCL to cover decent medical treatment for me as an American citizen.  I cannot even imagine what it is like for crew members who are sent back to their countries of origin.  Forget about any sort of living compensation while shoreside for treatment.  I was able to live with my parents, but if I hadn't had that option I would have had quite a bit of difficulty.  It is shameful the way they sign crew members off of ships to fend for themselves."   

 

We have written articles about Royal Caribbean's abuse of its crew members:

Cruise Ship Medicare Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft 

Titanic Dreams - Royal Caribbean Wins Worst Cruise Lines in the World Award

 

Have you received medical treatment on a Royal Caribbean?  What was your experience?

 

Photo Credit:  Jim Walker

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. 

Maritime Rights of Princess Cruises Crewmembers for Injuries and Illness

Most crewmembers like their jobs.  They work hard but take time to enjoy the camaraderie that exists between the crew.  But when they bcome injured, and particularly if they are sent back home, they find it difficult to obtain medical treatment for their ship related injuries.

Princess Cruises - Crew - Maritime Rights - InjuriesMany crewmembers employed by Princess Cruises have contacted us to inquire about their rights after being injured or becoming ill on Princess cruise ships. 

Most crewmembers contact us via email after they have been sent home on "medical leave," but the cruise line refuses to timely provide them with medical treatment and payment of their living expenses.

Unfortunately, Princess keeps its crewmembers in the dark.  Most crewmembers do not understand these basic maritime rights:  

The Jones Act & the Right to a Safe Place to Work Aboard the Cruise Ship

The Jones Act is a U.S. law which requires maritime employers to provide their crew with a safe place to work.  Under this law, cruise lines must operate their cruise ships in a safe and prudent manner.  The types of cases which fall under the Jones Act include waiters slipping and falling in the galley, neck, back and wrist injuries due to carrying heavy trays, and back injuries due to heavy lifting. 

If a crewmember's injury is caused by the cruise line's negligence (even the "slightest degree of negligence"), the crewmember is entitled to make a claim for lost wages and tips, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and medical expenses (in the past and the future).    

The "Unseaworthiness" Doctrine - Strict Liability for Cruise Ship Injuries

Cruise lines are required to maintain and operate their cruise ships in a manner which does not cause injury to the crew employees.  If any part of the vessel is dangerous and causes an injury to a crewmember, the cruise line faces liability for paying compensation to the crewmember.  This liability exists without the necessity of proving that the cruise line was negligent.  A cruise ship can be found to be "unseaworthy" if there is insufficient training of the crew, an insufficient number of employees to perform the work, or the crew is required to perform the work in a dangerous manner.

Princess Cruises - Crewmember Rights - Illness and InjuryUnder certain circumstances, the cruise ship can become "unseaworthy" when a crewmember attacks or sexually assaults a crewmate, particularly if a weapon or date rape drug is used.

As is the case with Jones Act negligence, a finding that the cruise ship is "unseaworthy" entitles the crewmember to the full range of damages - ranging from wages and medical expenses to pain and suffering and mental anguish (inconvenience, depression, anxiety).

Prompt and Adequate Shipboard Medical Treatment

Crewmembers who become ill or injured are entitled to prompt and adequate medical treatment from the ship doctor and nurse.  If the condition cannot be treated satisfactorily on the cruise ship, crewmembers are entitled to seek medical treatment in the next port of call, including U.S. ports of call.  Crew employees often work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.  When they become injured or sick, unfortunately there is a mentality of the supervisors and officers that they "must keep working."  Often the crew's supervisors frown on complaints of being ill, injured, tired or mentally exhausted.

Sometimes waiters, bar staff and cleaners develop serious injuries carrying trays, lifting boxes, and working long hours.  Their injuries can become serious and permanent due if there is a delay in treating the injury.  Under the Jones Act, crew members have the right to seek compensation if their illness or injury is not treated in a timely and responsible manner. 

"Maintenance and Cure"

Cruise lines like Princess are required to pay the crewmember's living expenses (called "maintenance") and provide all necessary medical treatment (called "cure") when a crewmember is unable to work due to an injury or illness and needs to leave the cruise ship. Crewmembers are entitled to select their own doctor or switch to their own doctor if they are dissatisfied with the company doctor. 

"Maintenance and cure" is a well-established legal doctrine which has existed in the U. S. since 1820.  It can be dated back to the Medieval Sea Codes.  Under this doctrine, cruise lines are legally obligated to treat their crew as if they were their children needing medical help. 

We have found that Princess often does not pay living expenses or provide its crewmembers with medical treatment.  Sometimes the cruise line requires the injured crewmember pay for his Princess Cruises - Maritime Rights - Jones Actor her own medical treatment and then offer to possibly pay the bills later.  This violates the law.  As a practical matter, most crewmembers cannot afford to pay for surgeries or ongoing therapy.  The result is that the medical condition worsens and the crewmember experiences additional pain and disability.    

Under the "maintenance and cure" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation when the cruise line abandons or neglects in their home countries.  In addition to the damages under the Jones Act and "unseaworthiness" doctrine, crewmembers can seek compensation for additional pain and suffering and mental anguish, unpaid medical and living expenses, and attorney fees.  If the cruise line acted unreasonably, callously, arbitrarily, or capriciously, then the crewmember can seek "punitive damages" - designed to punish the cruise line for acting badly.        

Princess Cruises' Illegal "Employment Contract"

If you are a Princess crewmember reading this article, you probably have never heard of the Jones Act or the "unseaworthiness" and "maintenance and cure" doctrines.  That's because Princess does not explain these basic rights to you.  You can read your "employment contract" a million times, but you will never find any reference to these rights.

Instead, Princess Cruises claims that a crewmember must submit to "arbitration" (without a jury) in Bermuda, and only the law of Bermuda applies. Of course, the cruise line selected Bermuda law because Bermuda does not have a Jones Act nor does it recognize the legal doctrines explained above. 

Princess Cruises - Unseaworthiness - Crew rightsHowever, U.S. courts have found that Princess' "employment contract" and its "terms and conditions" which attempt to apply the law of Bermuda are illegal and unenforceable.  Princess does not explain this either to its crewmembers.          

About Princess Cruises - Doing Business in Florida

Princess Cruises is a cruise line headquartered in Santa Clarita, California.  It is well known  for the Pacific Princess which served as the cruise ship for the "Love Boat"  television program. 

Princess operates fourteen large cruise ships: Caribbean Princess, Coral Princess, Crown Princess, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Island Princess, Ruby Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess, Star Princess, and Sun Princess - as well as three smaller cruise ships, Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, and Royal Princess. 

Princess Cruises registered its corporation and flagged its cruise ships in Bermuda in order to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. safety & labor laws.  But Princess has its headquarters in Southern California with a huge base of operations in Broward County, Florida.  It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Miami based Carnival cruise lines.  There are numerous lawsuits pending in Miami against Princess for injuries to Princess cruise employees around the world.  

We have handled claims against Princess Cruises involving passengers and crewmembers. One of the most publicized case involved the death of a passenger due to a fire aboard the Star Princess.  We represented the passenger's children in that tragedy and one of our clients testified before our U.S. Congress regarding fire safety issues.

 

Credits:

Photographs of Star Princess cruise ship   Jim Walker's Flickr page

Photographs of Princess crewmembers Princess Cruises Crew Members FaceBook Page  ("This is for all the people who work onboard Princess' ships and  . . .  lived for months on end in a prison cell they call a cabin, gotten drunk off of $1 beer and wine in the dungeon they call a crew bar.")

Royal Caribbean Cruises - An Epidemic of Sick, Injured & Neglected Crew Members

Today I received a telephone call and two emails from crew members from Trinidad, India and Nicaragua. 

Their stories all sounded the same. 

They worked on cruise ships as a waiter or assistant waiter until they suffered back, shoulder or Royal Caribbean Crew Member = Trinidadwrist injuries.  After being sent home, they had to call and email the cruise line repeatedly before a medical appointment was finally scheduled.  They received only $12 a day for living expenses.  And their "case managers" - the employees at the cruise line responsible for arranging their medical treatment - would never return their e-mails.

Halfway through their stories, I would interrupt them with the question: "So you worked for Royal Caribbean?"

Right now this particular cruise line has embarked on a purge of removing ill crew members from its "sick lists" and slashing the medical treatment and daily stipend provided to the ship employees. 

We have addressed this problem in prior blog articles -  Cruise Ship Medical Care - Royal Caribbean Gives Their Crew Members the Royal Shaft and "Titanic Dreams" - Royal Caribbean Wins "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award.

Royal Caribbean requires its waiters and assistant waiters to carry trays weighing up to 50 lbs.  The Royal Caribbean Crew Member - Trinidad waiters work over 12 hours a days, 7 days a weeks, carrying the trays over their shoulders.  The result is a rash of neck, shoulder, wrist and back injuries due to the repetitive heavy load and strain.

Once their bodies are broken, the crew members are of little use to the cruise line.  Royal Caribbean sends them back to their home countries, where they are neglected and then abandoned. 

The extreme cost cutting measures are the result of this particular cruise line being caught between the dream of having the most ostentatious cruise ships in the world (the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas), and the reality of being unable to even sell out the Oasis of the Seas for its inaugural cruise. 

For every ten inquiries we receive from injured crew members - like Trinidadian crew members Mr. Ambris (above) and Ms. Villafana (to the right) - nine are former Royal Caribbean crew members.  

Once all of the hoopla over the arrival of the Oasis of the Seas dies down, will Royal Caribbean shift its focus back to the welfare of its hard-working crew members?  Or will receiving emails and calls from Royal Caribbean crew members continue to be a daily occurrence?