Today’s cruise ships are full of surprises. From the almost endless variety of entertainment and leisure activities, to the food and company at dinner, passengers never know what a trip may bring. But one surprise isn’t welcome: cruise ship practices regarding emergency aid for sick or injured passengers. This issue is at the heart of an upcoming trial pitting Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. against a young passenger who became severely disabled after what her family says was a needless delay in getting medical attention. That case — Amaran v Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (Case No. 04-26948 CA 27) — will begin November 7 in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County. But its impact, says cruise ship injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson of the law firm Gerson & Schwartz, will be felt wider, and for a long time to come.
“In the six years we have spent in pre-litigation, the defendants — Royal Caribbean and the firm that manages its fitness centers and spas, Steiner Transocean — have said they have no duty to provide emergency care at sea,” says Gerson, a longtime advocate for cruise ship injury victims. “They’ve said it during hearing after hearing, on transcript after transcript, that there is no duty to provide emergency medical care. We don’t think that’s correct. And with this case, we plan to both publicize and end this dangerous practice. We’re going to help push the cruise ship industry into the 21st century.”
Preetha Amaran, the plaintiff in the upcoming trial, was a 26-year-old medical resident — bright future and life ahead of her — when she collapsed aboard a treadmill on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on March 8, 2004. In a sworn deposition, her mother, who witnessed the event, testified that the fitness center’s director failed to use his training in CRP to render aid, and that, indeed, he failed even to assess the seriousness of the situation. Preetha and her family contend that medical attention was needlessly delayed, resulting in severe brain injury and permanent incapacitation.
“No one disputes that the fitness director did nothing — no CPR, no assessment, no running for the ship’s doctor,” says Gerson. “That is something lawyers for Royal Caribbean and Steiner Transocean have said on the transcripts, too. But that’s okay, the defendants contend, because the case law says cruise ships are under no obligation even to carry doctors. What we plan to show at trial is that they’re improperly extending a very old, out-of-date rule.”
Historically, says Gerson, ships didn’t have to carry doctors because the vessels were alone at sea, with only limited, primitive communications links, so there was no way to have control over what the doctor did. “But times are very different now,” the injury lawyer adds, “with ships carrying advanced technology, like satellites and Internet connections and even videoconferencing.” Just as significantly, Gerson adds, there are more recent laws in place — international maritime regulations that say that ships do need to have an emergency plan and crew members do need to train in CPR. “To say there is no duty to do anything just flies in the face of both maritime law and logic,” the veteran attorney says.
Gerson’s hope is that the Amaran case will clarify what the duty of a cruise ship crew member is. But he also hopes that the trial will help get the word out about industry practices that, he says, are both antiquated and dangerous. Public pressure, the injury lawyer notes, can be an effective way to spur industry-wide changes.
And those changes, says Gerson, are urgently needed: “Nowhere does the cruise industry publicize the fact that if you’re injured, or you become sick, or you have a heart attack on their treadmill, they have no duty at all to come to your assistance. People walk onto a ship expecting a lot of things — entertainment, recreation, a good time. But they never expect that when they need help most, they’re not going to get it.”
About the Company
Founded in 1970 by Miami personal injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson, the law firm of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., has spent the past four decades protecting, and vindicating, the rights of individuals who have suffered serious harm — from automobile accidents to medical malpractice to cruise ship injuries. In the process, the firm has become recognized as “Top Lawyers” by the South Florida Business Review, and recognized widely for its work with public interest groups like the International Cruise Victims Association and the National Center for Victims of Crime. To learn more about the trial lawyers of Gerson & Schwartz, visit www.injuryattorneyfla.com