The maritime lawyers here in Miami have been in a state of outrage following a recent decision from an appellate court in the Estate of Tore Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Case No. 10-15840 (11th Cir. Sept. 21, 2011).

This case addressed the issue of whether a cruise line could legally enforce a "forum selection clause" transferring the lawsuit to a court outside of the U.S., if the effect of the transfer were to limit the cruise line’s liability for personal injury or death occurring on cruises.

There is a federal statute which clearly prohibits cruise lines from doing this. 46 U.S.C. section 30509(a) states that attempts to limit liability by contractual terms in cases where the cruise ship calls on a U.S. port are illegal and unenforceable.

In the Myhra v. Royal Caribbean case, a passenger contracted what is described as a bacterial infection on the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship which led to his death. His widow filed suit in Miami where all lawsuits against this cruise line are filed. But the cruise line moved to dismiss the case, citing terms buried deep in the the passenger ticket which specified the U.K. as the location for the lawsuit.

The lawyers for Mr. Myhra’s widow argued that the fine print terms in the passenger ticket were not reasonably communicated to Mr. Myhra, and even if they were, because the U.K. adopted the Athens Convention limiting the liability of cruise lines to a maximum of $75,000 (even including death cases), this clause violated 46 U.S.C. section 30509(a).        

But the Eleventh Circuit held that 46 U.S.C. section 30509(a) was not violated. In a tortuously reasoned opinion, it held that because it was not the cruise line limiting its liability, but rather a foreign country (the U.K.) which provided limited damages, the transfer to the U.K. didn’t violate 30509(a). This is a rather circuitous argument. After all, it was Royal Caribbean which inserted the U.K. into the ticket as the chosen forum. It did so because it knew that Britain would afford only limited damages to passengers in cases of injury and death.

The South Florida Lawyers blog covered the story. An anonymous reader commented that the decision was "more intellectual dishonesty from the 11th Circuit." Curiously, in a footnote to the decision, the court held that a different result might be reached if the passengers were a U.S. citizen who bought his ticket in the U.S., as opposed to a Brit who bought his ticket in Britain.

Tore Myhra - Royal Caribbean Cruises - Cruise ShipThe case will be remembered as a result-oriented decision where the xenophobic appellate court’s priority was to send the case away from the U.S. based on whatever justification it could scrap together.

But there is more to the story. 

Mr. Myhra was not just an average passenger. He was the former Captain (i.e., Master) of several Royal Caribbean cruise ships. He mastered the Monarch of the Seas and was a captain of one of the cruise line’s first cruise ships, the Song of America.

By all accounts, Captain Myhra was a skilled mariner, a dedicated Royal Caribbean employee and a well respected captain who was liked by his fellow officers and crew members on the cruise ships on which he served as Master.

In 1998, Captain Myhra bravely sailed the Monarch of the Seas into the harbor in St. Maarten in the middle of the night to bring a sick passenger ashore for emergency medical treatment. But while the cruise ship was sailing out under the command of another officer, the vessel went off course and ran across a reef. The ship sustained heavy damage to the hull and began to take on water. Captain Myhra took command of the ship and ground it to keep it from sinking.

In 1999, Captain Myhra resigned from Royal Caribbean. Even though he was not at the helm when the ship hit the reef, he took responsibility. Thereafter he began a successful camping business called Rose Farm Touring & Camping Park in England with his wife, Susan, and their daughter.

A decade later, Captain Myhra returned to a Royal Caribbean cruise ship not as the captain but as a passenger with his wife aboard the Liberty of the Seas. Captain Myhra was exposed to Legionnaires Disease along with another passenger due to the negligent manner that the cruise line maintained its water supplies.  Although infected, he was kept aboard the cruise ship until the end of the cruise, only to die in a public hospital the next day.

Captain Myhra ended his career with Royal Caribbean trying to help a sick passenger in the middle of the night by diverting the cruise into port for emergency medical care, but ended his life sickened on a Royal Caribbean ship as a passenger.   

But the irony and injustice does not stop there. Captain Myhra and his wife, Sue, a cruise ship purser herself on Royal Caribbean ships, were "Loyal-to-Royal" friends to the cruise line. They were part of the Royal Caribbean "family."  I’m sure CEO Richard Fain knew them both on a first name basis.

But when Master Myhra died due to exposure to Legionnaires Disease on the Royal Caribbean ship, the cruise line treated his widow and child shabbily.  

Royal Caribbean denied liability and tried to place the blame elsewhere. It could have stepped up to the plate and paid Ms. Myhra and her daughter a reasonable settlement and wished its friends and family members well.  But instead, it paid its defense lawyers in Miami a vast sum of money to try and kick the lawsuit, which Ms. Myhra was forced to file, out of the U.S.

In the end result today, Royal Caribbean beat its former captain’s widow and child in a court of law. The appellate court pronounced that their lawsuit for the wrongful-death-by-Legionnaire’s-Disease-on-a-Miami-based-cruise-ship is somehow not welcome here in Miami where Royal Caribbean is headquartered.

What a sad spectacle. 

Cruise line CEO Fain and President Adam Goldstein earned over $12,000,000 in 2010 while their cruise ships reduced costs across the fleet, including cost reductions due to fewer tests of its potable water on the Liberty of the Seas and other ships. Meanwhile Ms. Myhra is left to seek compensation in the U.K. for her dead husband and the dead father of her daughter.

After attorney fees and costs, the net compensation will turn into peanuts.

  • Fabi

    Royal Caribbean sucks !!

  • Pabs Panes

    He was a man with good intention. I had chance to work with the ship he sailed in the early ’90s. This is a sad outcome knowing how money could thwart laws and intellect. I believe that when a man dies under your care, it knows no bound, the responsibility will always be yours. It doesn’t matter where it happened, what nationality does he bear, what country he boarded or purchased his ticket, or what law affects what. The ship administration covers crew and passengers. Making wrong judgement in critical time that will lead to arrest of a man’s life reflects wrong care and administration. A furtherance of this case by way of elevating to the next respectable court or possible new venue for seeking grievance is necessary.

  • C. Jeanrond

    This is very sad and I am really sorry to say that I once worked on this ship and had a near nervous breakdown… I ended my contract early, not sorry and never will be. It was the worst ship and company that I have ever worked for and the way they treat their staff is incredible slavery… they are making use of cheap labour and then still threatning crew when they don’t do exactly what they are told to do and how to behave…. sorry to say that it works most of the time as too many 3rd world countries, people gets employed and work incredible hours, with a smile for passengers… sad is all I can say…

  • Dorothy woodhouse

    Thanks Mr.Walker for your very kind words about Tore.Sue is my sister and this article meant a great deal to her.

  • roel mamorno

    sorry to this captain what ever you did to this company they treat you just like other crew a slave

  • BPOR

    “Curiously, in a footnote to the decision, the court held that a different result might be reached if the passengers were a U.S. citizen who bought his ticket in the U.S., as opposed to a Brit who bought his ticket in Britain.” – Says it all really – DISGUSTING JUDGE….. I wonder what happened to the second passenger? Did he/she die? Was he/she American?

  • fernando martins

    I was Captain’s Tore waiter when he was the Staff Captain on the Nordic Prince. I was on the Monarch when he saved our lives. He was different than most officers in as much as he was human and always respected the crew. A very fine Man, and shame on RCL for not honoring their responsability. I quit RCL in 2000 and that was the one of the best things I ever did. RIP Captain Tore.

  • Teo Martins

    He ,was a great person and a great friend ,I did have the pleasure ,to be is Captain waiter, at the same time have has a clouse friend, that we did talk a lot about a lot of think s ,like ,life,sad to found that .. but God is good hope he take good care of that good man….

  • Cheryl

    After reading this tragic tale and after learning that Royal Carribean also did nothing to help the Bradley family after their daughter Amy went missing on one of their cruise ships I WILL NEVER TRAVEL ABOARD ROYAL CARRIBEAN CRUISE LINE. I have close to a hundred cruise days on Silver Seas and I will continue to travel on this other fine cruise line..not RC who’s CEO cares more about money in his pocket than the health and safety of its passengers..OUTRAGEOUS
    Time for a boycott of Royal Carribean.

  • Sandra

    I have booked my first Royal Carribean cruise from Sydney recently, and after reading this treatment of a retired captain, I am pretty stunned & will not travel with this line after this trip in support of this poor man his family. Disgusting … they should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Peter

    Just curious. This article sites that he contracted Legionnaires disease on the Freedom of the Seas but then refers to the Liberty of the Seas before and after. Is that an inconsistency in the story, or did I miss something?

  • Robert ret. c/safety

    this is very said day. Sorry for the loss of a great man, and sad that his family was not treated better over their loss

  • Mark Duffey

    It goes to show where the values lie,I as an ex RCCL employee for many reasons,I believe that they value their name more than anything else and treat people in a manner that most would consider inappropriate.I had many years ago a slipped disc and was treated in Miami,I had to stay in Miami for many weeks for so called on going therapy.I should have been allowed to return home to re-habilitate properly and paid accordingly with a salary somewhere in line with on board earnings not the pitiful amount that I was.Again this was all down to costs.Never sail with them and prefer other companies and the on board scenario with drinks shows that they control every aspect of your experience !!

  • Emma

    So sorry to hear about this its terrible! ! I worked on the ship that went in to the coral reef all those years ago. Thanks to him we where all ok. This is really a shame and so sad…

  • Ben

    well..RCCL sure “Delivered the WOW” to me with this one..but not in the way that they probably think of “WOW”..cunts

    made me feel very sad and empty while reading this..this is just another reason for me to be allowed to hate this company and make me feel even happier that my employment ended with them in May :D:D:D:D

    add another one to the ever-growing list of people being fucked over by Royal Caribbean

    thanks very much to Jim Walker for posting this and raising awareness

  • Debra

    I was very disheartened to read this. My first cruise was with RCCL and I can assure you that it will be my last after reading this article.
    My thoughts and prayers are with the family. I am truly sorry that this has happened to such a wonderful man.

  • Alan Munger

    The Captain and single guest in question were the only ones sickened by Legionnaires Disease? A faulty potable water system to blame? Was this the same water that thousands of other guests were exposed to? Just a few things that don’t make sense to me. Maybe I missed something here. Tragic….. Yes,however, I think there is more to the story here.