Today the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal published an opinion in a case where a group of passengers reportedly gang raped a heavily intoxicated minor aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.

A Christmas Nightmare

In December of 2015, the day before Christmas, the girl (age 15) in question boarded the Oasis of the Seas with her two sisters and grandparents. She alleged that on the first night of the seven day cruise a group of around a dozen adult male passengers bought multiple alcoholic drinks for her in a lounge and other public areas of the cruise ship. They plied her with enough alcohol that she became “highly intoxicated, obviously drunk, disoriented, and unstable” and “obviously incapacitated.” The group of nearly a dozen men then steered her “to a cabin where they brutally assaulted and gang raped her.”

The lawsuit further alleged that multiple Royal Caribbean crew members, including those responsible for monitoring the ship’s security cameras, observed the male guests buying the alcohol which was consumed by the minor and then “leading her away to a cabin while she was incapacitated.” Yet, the crew members “did nothing to protect or help her.”

You can read the opinion here. The case is being handled by the Lipcon, Margulies law firm. The appeal was handled by Carol Finklehoffe of that firm.

Royal Caribbean Tries to Avoid the Rape Case

Royal Caribbean moved to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that it failed to state a cause of action, despite the fact that the cruise line obviously has known over the last decade that many hundreds of guests, including many minors, alleged that they have been raped on the cruise line’s ships by both crew members and other guests. Incredibly, Royal Caribbean argued that it was not foreseeable that a guest could be raped under the circumstances alleged. Even more incredibly, the district court judge, Judge Michael Moore, granted the cruise line’s motion to dismiss and entered judgment for Royal Caribbean. A copy of the trial court’s order can be viewed here.

Royal Caribbean “Knew A  Lot”

In a strongly worded decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the federal trial court, and held that the lawsuit filed on behalf of the girl clearly stated a viable cause of  action.

The appellate court stated that “the scope of Royal Caribbean’s duty to protect it’s passengers is informed, if not defined, by its knowledge of the dangers they face onboard. And it allegedly knew a lot.” (emphasis added).

Judge Ed Carnes stated in a concurring opinion that “publicly available data (which can be imputed to the cruise line) . . . reinforces the allegations in the complaint that Royal Caribbean know or should have known about the danger of sexual assault aboard its cruise ships.”

As a result of the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which was signed by President Obama (photo with client Laurie Dishman, California Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Texas Congressman Ted Poe above left), cruise lines have been required to report sexual assaults and other crimes which occur on cruise ships. Since then, several hundred guests have been raped on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The CVSSA was passed into law after a client of ours, Laurie Dishman, was sexually assaulted on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2006.   Ms. Dishman has traveled to Washington D.C. over 30 times to educate Congressional leaders on the problem of sexual assaults of women and girls on cruise ships. She has testified several times in front of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate (photo right) where representatives of Royal Caribbean and the cruise trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), have attended.

Royal Caribbean Knows That It Has A Serious Problem

We have obtained documentation that there have been well over 500 sexual assaults on Royal Caribbean cruise ships since Ms. Dishman’s case in 2006.

The on-line crime data, based on crimes reported to the FBI (which are usually less than the actual number of crimes alleged) reveals that there have been at least 66 sexual assaults alleged on Royal Caribbean ships alone in the less than 5 year period prior to the alleged rape of this girl.  The concurring judge cited the case of Doe v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.,  which our firm handled,  which involved a young woman raped on the Star Princess where the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal stated that:

Unfortunately, if congressional reports are to be believed, sexual assaults and other violent crimes on cruise ships are a serious problem.

The court went on to state that 178 passengers leaving U.S. ports reported being raped between 2003 and 2005.

The appellate court concluded its decision by stating that “and it would be absurd to suggest that a multi-billion dollar business like Royal Caribbean was not aware of congressional reports about the problem of sexual assaults aboard it cruise ships.”

Unanswered Questions

In December of 2009, when the Oasis of the Seas was sailing on its inaugural cruise and cruise executives Richard Fain and Adam Goldstein were aboard the giant ship, I wrote an article asking some basic questions about the ship’s security personnel and protocols to keep over 6,000 passengers safe at sea. The LA Times had reported that for a period of 32 months, there were over 270 incidents of sexual assault, battery, and sexual harassment on Royal Caribbean ships(based on data which we forwarded to the newspaper). Here are a couple of questions which I posed 10 years ago:

Q:  How many security guards are assigned to the seven “neighborhoods” on the cruise ship?  Are there security “sub-stations” in each of the neighborhoods?

Q:  How many security guards patrol the neighborhoods from 10:00 p.m. to 4 a.m., a time period we have found  when female passengers are at a higher risk of being assaulted?

These questions have been unanswered over the last decade, while many women and girls have been raped on this Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

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Photo credit: Oasis of the Seas – Baldwin040 – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia; Royal Caribbean executives – Royal Caribbean via Cruise Critic; Laurie Dishman – official White House image / screenshot Congressional web broadcast..