Over the past month, various lawsuits against cruise lines have made the news. These suits have been filed by former employees, or the estates of former employees, over accidents that occurred during emergency drills.
Last week, the Norwegian Cruise Line removed a wrongful death suit to Florida federal court, claiming that the suit must be arbitrated in the Philippines, pursuant to the terms of the deceased employee’s employment contract.
The lawsuit was brought by Geraldine Buenaventura over the death of her husband, Ben Buenaventura, a Norwegian employee who died while participating in a rescue drill. The details of the incident and the lawsuit both remain uncovered.
Earlier this month, a Miami-Dade County jury returned a verdict against Royal Caribbean Cruises for more than $20,000,000 on behalf of an officer who was seriously injured during an emergency drill in 2008.
Lisa Spearman suffered permanent injuries when a watertight door crushed her right hand. She suffered a broken middle finger, a broken index finger, and the nails on both fingers were ripped from the cuticles. Spearman was attempting to assist a ship nurse who had stumbled while attempting to walk past the door during an emergency test.
Following the accident, Royal Caribbean referred Spearman to her doctor in Barcelona, who misdiagnosed her condition, splinted her fingers in the wrong direction, further worsening the damages. Subsequently, for two years, Spearman underwent therapy while Royal paid her a daily disability payment of $25, as stipulated in her employee disability insurance coverage. She is still unable to properly move the fingers on her right hand.
Spearman was later diagnosed with a chronic pain syndrome associated with a nervous system malfunction. The syndrome causes severe pain to run into her other arm and up to her head. She also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2010, Royal discharged Spearman, citing that although her job on the ship was mostly clerical, due to the nature of her injury, she would not be able to properly perform the necessary safety tasks that could require lifting up to 50 pounds.
Finally, in a 2016 lawsuit, Spearman alleged that Royal Caribbean refused to re-hire her and then refused to pursue disability benefits on her behalf. Spearman then sued the cruise line.
Spearman’s attorney argued that Royal Caribbean was negligent in its training to staff. Specifically, the crew were not trained to operate the type of door that crushed Spearman’s hand, and the nurse was not told by crew at the port that a security drill was taking place. It was also argued that Royal was negligent in failing to provide proper medical care, discharging her for a non-performance reason, breached its contract with her, and failed to pay her full wages. After a three-week trial, the jury returned the verdict of $20,300,000.
Spearman’s incident was not the first of its kind. In the three years preceding her 2008 accident, 12 Royal Caribbean crew members suffered hand injuries when the doors slid back into their pockets, according to information provided by Royal during the discovery phase of the case.