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Royal Caribbean Ordered to Pay $3.38 Million in Damages for Passenger Death

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Last week, a federal jury in Miami found that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. owes $3.38 million to the family of a passenger who died of a heart attack on board of one of its ships in 2016.

Richard Puchalski was celebrating his 70th birthday with family on an Alaskan cruise when he began suffering from a cardiac incident. The Puchalski family’s attorneys argued, and the jury agreed, that the ship’s doctor, Dr. Amanda Saunders, made several errors that turned the serious cardiac incident into a fatal heart attack.

The lawsuit stated that Puchalski went to the infirmary on the Explorer of the Seas on July 31, 2016 with shortness of breath. Dr. Saunders found a “septal infarction, age undetermined,” and gave Puchalski medication and sent him back to his room. The lawsuit argued that Dr. Saunders should have contacted his family and kept him for more testing, or even transported him to a hospital on shore.

Approximately a half hour after Puchalski returned to his room, he collapsed. Two nurses arrived to assist; however, they were unable to lift him. Further, the nurses did not provide any treatment. Eventually, with the aid of additional ship personnel, they were able to get Puchalski to the medical center onboard; however, “there was an additional significant delay before he was transported ashore.” Eventually, Saunders ordered a transfer to a hospital in Juneau, Alaska. He died four days later.

Damages were determined to be $34,390 in medical expenses and $4.8 million in loss of companionship, as well as pain and suffering. The jury ruled that there was negligence on the part of Royal Caribbean and Puchalski, yet found Royal to be 70% at fault. Therefore, it was determined that the cruise line owes Puchalski’s estate $3.38 million.

Puchalski’s family is one of many who have raised concerns about medical care on board of cruise ships. There is numerous litigation pending against Royal and other cruise lines for damages allegedly caused by inadequate or negligent care. Royal Caribbean is currently pending another lawsuit after a passenger died of diabetes complications after a cruise in 2017 because of questionable medical attention she received on board. Cynthia Braaf, who was cruising to celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary, began suffering complications from her diabetes several days into her late-2017 cruise. Her husband contacted the ship’s infirmary and alerted the doctors that his wife was feeling weak and lethargic, and had slurred speech.

Braff was diagnosed by the medical center with diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a severe (yet treatable) medical condition. Within an hour and a half, her condition worsened. When the ship returned to its port a day and a half later, she was immediately transferred to Broward General Hospital, where she died several days later. The complaint filed against Royal alleges that the company was negligent because doctors failed to properly assess her condition, and failed to evacuate her.

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