An Arbitration panel in Miami, Florida has ordered Royal Caribbean Cruises to pay $1,250,000.00 to a crewmember following an injury aboard the Jewel of the Seas cruise ship.
The crewmember, who is from Serbia, sustained a serious back injury in June 2008 when a crew member violently slammed a door into her back while she was walking down a narrow hallway. She sustained a large herniated disc. She reported to the ship infirmary and the ship doctor found her unfit for duty. However, her supervisor instructed her to continue working.
The ship doctor thereafter refused to take her medical condition seriously, and did not take an x-ray or order a MRI at a port of call. After seven weeks of continuous work, her medical condition deteriorated badly. She collapsed and had to be taken from the cruise ship on a stretcher with a IV morphine drip to manage her pain.
Royal Caribbean sent her back to Serbia and refused to arrange for medical treatment. It paid her only $12 a day for lodging and food, which is impossible to live on. It paid her consistently late. It took the cruise line over five months to finally authorize back surgery in January 2009. The doctor then performed surgery at the wrong level. Royal Caribbean thereafter refused to arrange or pay for her rehabilitation or arrange for follow-up x-rays or a MRI.
After she retained Walker & O’Neill to represent her, the cruise line continued to refuse to meet its legal obligation to provide her with the necessary medical treatment. When our firm complained, the cruise line terminated her living expenses. One of the in-house lawyers overseeing the cruise line’s medical department, Tony Faso, decided to abandon her. Mr. Faso sent an email to Walker & O’Neill stating:
"I am sure any arbitrator will agree with me. I am sure that I will get some ridiculous response from you. I really don’t care . . ."
Walker & O’Neill then flew the crew member here to Miami, and arranged for her to see a U.S. board certified orthopedist who determined that the first surgery was a failure. Royal Caribbean nonetheless refused to reinstate the crew member’s benefits or provide her with the necessary medical care.
The three member Arbitration panel found Royal Caribbean’s refusal to pay maintenance and cure benefits to be:
" . . . not reasonable. The denial of those benefits lacked any reasonable defense . . . "
The Arbitrators awarded the crew member $1,250,000.00.
Royal Caribbean was also found responsible for $11,650.00 for the administrative costs of the International Center for Dispute Resolution ("ICDR") as well as $48,970.00 for compensation of the Arbitrators.
This award is the highest arbitration amount awarded to an injured crewmember since cruise lines began arbitrating cases. The award demonstrates the consequences of a cruise line unlawfully abandoning an ill crewmember and spitefully terminating her medical benefits.
The crew member was represented by James (“Jim”) Walker and Lisa O’Neill of Walker & O’Neill P.A. and Jonathan Aronson of the Aronson Law Firm.
Royal Caribbean was represented by Curtis Mase of the Mase, Lara & Ebersole law firm.