Most people who are hurt on board a cruise ship don’t know that buried deep in their passenger ticket is language that requires them to file any potential claims against the cruise line within one year of the date of the incident and in Federal Court in Miami, Florida.
Why Are Cruise Ship Accident Cases Tried in Miami?
Perhaps the most common question I am asked by the people I try to help who have been hurt on a Carnival Cruise or other cruise line is why. “Why do I have to travel to Florida and hire a Miami lawyer to sue for a Cruise Ship Accident that happened out in the middle of the ocean or even in another country?”
The answer has a lot to do with the legal infrastructure available to the cruise lines in Miami. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian all maintain their international headquarters here. In their offices, they have teams of experienced cruise accident lawyers, paralegals, claims adjusters, investigators–experts who do nothing else but defend their companies against both real serious passenger accidents and, I imagine, hundreds of frivolous claims made by passengers and crew members. And if a claim cannot be resolved, there are also a half of dozen admiralty law firms that can provide increased support and expertise to defend claims, from jury selection to appeal.
Meet Carnival’s Favorite Orthopedic Surgeon
In addition to the legal defense team, anyone who is suing a cruise ship company will almost certainly be required to travel physically to Miami for a deposition (a sworn interrogation conducted by the cruise line’s lawyers) and what is commonly miscalled an “Independent Medical Examination” or IME.
The IME is an opportunity for the cruise line to verify and defend claimants’ injuries by having them examined by a carefully selected and highly paid doctor or doctors that will render an “opinion” as to whether or not the injuries are “real.”
An IME requires that passengers show up at a pre-designated location and time with their medical records, x-rays, and test results. The ship’s doctor will then poke and prod, probably take a few x-rays, and a few hours later–abracadabra!–out pops a report stating that whatever injury the passenger is claiming is either not from her fall or results from old age or a previous injury or, most of the time, that the claimant is not injured at all. Once in a while I will see a report come back that states that while the injury is from the onboard incident, it has completely healed, with no further medical care required. Never, in nearly 25 years of suing cruise ships, have I actually seen a medical report come back verifying the injury and stating that future medical care is required.
Since this IME doctor is local in Miami, he or she is available to come to trial or be deposed or meet with the cruise line’s lawyer easily and inexpensively. By contrast, the physicians who actually treat the people we try to help are located in their home towns spread across the country. It is even more difficult for us when our clients come from outside the country and have been treated by doctors who may not speak English, are unfamiliar with our legal process, and will not make themselves available to testify or come to Miami for a trial.
Falling on a Disney Cruise
Let me illustrate the consequences of this logistical issue of the passenger’s doctor versus the ship’s doctor when and if it comes time to go to trial. In this hypothetical case, the client, “M,” is from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While aboard a Disney cruise with her husband and children, she slips in the buffet line on spilled ice cream. Her first encounter with any health care provider involves the on board doctors and nurses. They are specially trained in how to document passenger injuries and note very specific details that will be used as evidence in the case (should there be one).
M returns to her hometown five days later, after finishing the cruise and then flying home. By the time she can get an appointment with her primary doctor and a referral to an orthopedist, another two weeks have passed. The orthopedist now orders an MRI that shows a tear in the medial meniscus, cartilage in the knee. He recommends physical therapy. Months pass. The pain gets worse, and surgical options are considered. She undergoes a few months of pain injections in an effort to avoid having surgery.
Not confident or comfortable with the level of care available in Saudi Arabia, M travels with her mother to see a trusted orthopedic surgeon in Dusseldorf. He has her undergo an additional MRI and CT scan. This surgeon agrees with the Saudi doctor’s opinion, and surgery is scheduled.
She returns to Germany a few months later and undergoes a procedure to repair her torn meniscus. The following few weeks she has the surgery, followed by nearly a month of physical therapy. Total medical expenses to date: $68,000.00 plus travel, hotel, and time away from her work and family. Again, this is a typical personal injury claim against a cruise ship.
When the dust settles back home, it is now seven months since the fall, and for the first time she considers that perhaps the cruise line should be responsible for reimbursing her out-of-pocket expenses. Hopefully she calls me or another lawyer, who sues Disney Cruises before the one-year anniversary of the fall. As the statute of limitations is only one year, if she waits too long she will have lost all her rights to make any claim.
Assuming she hires me and I sue Disney, she will be forced to travel to Miami for her deposition and her exam. Which she does. She will bring along her medical records, which are in Arabic and German.
The Cruise Ship Doctor vs. Your Doctor
The doctor the cruise line hires is located less than 30 minutes from the courthouse, speaks flawless American English, and practices at a hospital that most everyone in the jury will know by name. He will have attended a medical school that the jury knows, too.
Meanwhile, M’s doctors don’t speak English, or speak it with a heavy accident, graduated from foreign medical schools, work at unknown hospitals, and are not willing or able to travel to Miami to testify for her. This then will require that each of their depositions be scheduled overseas, which is enormously expensive and complicated to do.
In the end, whom will a jury most likely believe and trust? Imagine you are sitting in the jury box, seeing a local orthopedic surgeon in his doctor’s coat looking you in the eye, smiling, and telling you that M’s injury is not what she claims, versus the gritty, poorly-lit, hard-to-hear videotaped deposition of a German surgeon, nervously explaining the injury in incomprehensible terms. That dynamic alone puts the cruise lines at an enormous advantage not only in their ability to persuade the jury and win that case, but also financially.
Cruise Lines Can Outspend Injured Passengers and their Lawyers
In other words, what will cost a cruise line $2,000 in terms of evidence, can and will cost M’s lawyers $20,000 or more. This places the risk v. reward analysis firmly to the advantage of the cruise line. And this helps explain why cruise lines insist on having their cases filed in Miami.
Have you fallen aboard a Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, or Disney cruise ship? I am here to help. If you have been hurt on board a cruise ship, let me help you. We proudly provide free initial no-fee/no-cost consultations via SKYPE, email, or Toll-Free at 1-866-597-4529. Call us today. I am passionate about holding cruise lines accountable when they put their profits over their passengers’ safety.