Federal Court Reminds Carnival of Duty To Warn Passengers of Criminal Violence On Shore

Carnival Corporation was dealt a heavy legal blow a few weeks ago when an appeals court reinstated a federal Florida case brought against it by the family of 15-year-old Liz Marie Perez Chaparro, a Carnival cruise ship passenger who was shot and killed during a shore excursion in the port of St. Thomas. See our related June 2, 2011 blog “Family of Carnival Cruise Ship Passenger Killed In St. Thomas Shootout Sues Cruise Line.” Carnival’s attorneys had argued that the Chaparros’ negligence suit called for standards of care higher than those that should apply to cruise ship operators, but the appeals court didn’t buy this and opened the case back up for trial. According to reporting in the September 5, 2012 edition of The Christian Science Monitor, this development has major significance “because it could further define to what extent cruise ship companies – part of a $29 billion industry – may be held liable for criminal acts perpetrated on passengers exploring various ports of call.”

When Onshore Crimes Against Passengers Are Foreseeable
As recounted in the appeals court record, Liz Marie and her family were vacationing aboard the Carnival cruise ship Victory on July 12, 2010, when they decided to disembark and visit Coki Beach, a tourist site on St. Thomas. When the family headed out to the Beach in an open-air bus, they were unaware that Coki Beach was plagued by gang-related crime, and that the funeral of a St. Thomas gang member was to take place, that day, in the vicinity. The bus got trapped in traffic as it passed the funeral site on its way from the Beach back to the Victory, and it was unable to break free when a gang-related gunfight broke out. Liz Marie was shot as bullets sprayed the trapped tourist bus, and she died before the bus could make it to a local hospital. Her family watched in horror as all of this transpired.

Though the Chaparros’ Coki Beach excursion was not officially sponsored by Carnival, Carnival was apparently quite familiar with Coki Beach, because it regularly sold excursion tickets to this destination. Attorneys for the family moreover asserted that because Carnival routinely monitors crime in its ports of call, Carnival had every reason to know the risks, at Coki Beach, for drug activity, theft, and gang violence. The Chaparros therefore argued in their initial filing that Carnival’s failure to warn them of the dangers in St. Thomas, and on Coki Beach, in particular, constituted negligence, as these dangers were entirely foreseeable to Carnival.

The Duty to Warn Against Foreseeable Onshore Crimes
Carnival initially succeeded in getting the Chaparros’ lawsuit dismissed, but the Chaparros persisted and appealed. When the federal appeals court reinstated their case, it stated that at trial, Carnival’s failure to warn the Chaparros of the dangers at Coki Beach would be scrutinized under the Florida-based legal principle that “a cruise line owes its passengers a duty to warn of known dangers beyond the point of debarkation in places where passengers are invited or reasonably expected to visit.” The appeals court added that this duty to warn is entirely consistent with federal maritime law, which requires shipowners to protect passengers against any risky conditions of which the ship owners are actually aware, or of which they should be aware.

Nothing can bring Liz Marie back to life, but as the Chaparros get their day in court, they shall be seeking damages for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The emotional distress claim is brought on grounds that the Chaparros have suffered physical manifestations of the emotional trauma they experienced as they witnessed Liz Marie’s death (and as they sat fearing for their own lives) and that these injuries are the direct result of Carnival’s failure to warn them away from a well-known zone of danger.

Unfortunately, cruise ship passengers are likely to continue facing perils from criminal acts committed both on board and on shore, and they shall continue to need the effective legal representation that gives victims in such cases a chance at just compensation. Success in cruise ship accident cases depends on the up-to-date knowledge and mastery of specialized maritime litigation procedures that only highly experienced maritime attorneys can offer. Gerson and Schwartz has recovered millions of dollars in a wide variety of maritime personal injury cases, and we are dedicated to helping you should you need assistance in this area. For information on how we can help, call (305) 371-6000 or e-mail us at info@gslawusa.com.