Celebrity Cruises v. Fernandes – $2.5M Injury Verdict Reversed, Case Remanded

Working a board a cruise ship has a host of benefits, but it’s often difficult work accompanied by a number of risks. ships

Like any other employer, cruise ships have a responsibility to keep workers safe. Per the federal Schoenbaum Admiralty and Maritime Law, most cruise ship workers – from entertainers to cooks to bartenders – are considered “seamen.” Those injured aboard the ship are entitled to special rights and protections, including those in the Jones Act, the Longshore Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the doctrine of unseaworthiness and the principle maintenance and cure, among others.

While workers’ compensation is generally deemed the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries, the line may be blurred for cruise ship workers who live on the vessel where they work. Just because an injury occurs on a ship doesn’t necessarily mean it arose in the course of employment. Even if it does, there may be situations where a civil lawsuit is still warranted – particularly if a shipowner fails to provide maintenance and cure to an injured worker.

Our West Palm Beach injury lawyers understand one such case was brought recently against a Florida-based cruise line by an Indian employee.

According to plaintiff in Fernandes v. Celebrity Cruises Inc., he was injured in a fight with another crew member while aboard the ship in European waters. The 46-year-old was employed in 2009 as an assistant stateroom attendant when he was attacked by another worker while he was taking towels out of a linen keeper. Apparently, there weren’t enough towels for each room, and crew members sometimes fought for them.

As a result of that attack, he suffered a broken leg. Plaintiff was immediately sent home to India with no contingency for food, shelter, medical care, surgery, therapy or medication. He required two surgeries and reportedly suffered permanent disabilities.

He later filed a lawsuit in the Florida Southern District Court, alleging negligence, unseaworthiness, failure to provide maintenance and cure and failure to treat. Under the principle of maintenance and cure, shipowners are obligated to provide medical care – free of charge – to injured seamen. The shipowner is also required to provide basic living expenses until the voyage is completed, even if the seaman can no longer work.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that if a seaman has to file a lawsuit to obtain rightful maintenance and cure, he or she is also entitled to collect attorneys’ fees. Further, punitive damages may be collected if the failure to provide maintenance and cure is willful or wanton.

In Fernandes, trial was repeatedly delayed by scheduling conflicts and logistical issues. Trial judge ultimately became fed up with what she described as defendant’s deliberate attempts to drag out proceedings, and sanctioned defendant with a default judgment in plaintiff worker’s favor. The trial then proceeded solely on the issue of damages, which a jury decided after just two hours of deliberation should be for $2.5 million.

Unfortunately, trial judge apparently made a major error in handing down the default judgement in that no prior notice was provided to defendant that a default judgment hearing would be held, meaning defendant was deprived of the chance to present evidence in its favor. This is a violation of due process, according to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

Thus, the verdict was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Fernandes v. Celebrity Cruises Inc., Nov. 5, 2014, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

1st DCA Rules in Favor of Worker Attacked on the Job, Oct. 31, 2014, West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog