Miami, FL – June 12, 2011 – After six years of contentious pre-trial — discovery — including a court ruling that chastised the defendant, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., for withholding important information as a disabled woman’s family sought justice — a potentially landmark cruise ship injury case heads to trial. On May 19, Judge Jerald Bagley of the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County, Florida set a trial date of November 7th for the case, Amaran v Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (Case No. 04-26948 CA 27).
While the lawsuit is about compensation for a young doctor struck down at the threshold of her career, it is also about the need for important — and long overdue — changes to cruise ship policies for requiring emergency assistance measures by crewmen, according to the brain damaged passenger’s attorney, Philip M. Gerson.
“For six years our firm, Gerson & Schwartz, has been working with the family of Dr. Preetha Amaran to show that her horrific, permanent, life-altering injuries stem not just from one careless series of failures to act, but from lax Royal Caribbean emergency polices that the alleged go completely against the requirements of international maritime law,” says Gerson, a longtime advocate for cruise ship victims and a voice for reforms.
“Royal Caribbean has done everything possible to hinder search for the truth — and has already been taken to task for that by a Florida appellate court,” Gerson added. “We’re grateful that this case will finally be tried. And we’re confident that it will spur important, necessary, and fundamental changes in the way emergency responses are provided by Royal Caribbean.”
Preetha Amaran’s case, and her family’s six-year fight for justice, according to court documents, traces back to March 8th 2004, when the 26-year old collapsed on a treadmill aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. In a parent’s worst nightmare, her mother witnessed the event — and also, she would later say, the failure of the fitness center’s director to use his training to render aid. In her sworn deposition, Preetha’s mother testified that the director made no effort to assess the seriousness of the situation. This, the Gerson & Schwartz lawyers will show at trial, delayed the arrival of the ship’s on-duty doctor — precious minutes during which Preetha’s brain was deprived of oxygen. Indeed, the lawsuit alleges, by the time the doctor arrived – others having to bring a defibrillator up nine decks because the fitness center didn’t have one — and Preetha was resuscitated, she had suffered irreversible anoxic brain injury.
Today, Preetha is severely incapacitated — unable to speak more than a few phrases and unable to work. Requiring round-the-clock supervision, her career is over. Everything she worked hard to have for her future is gone forever. She will never live normally and enjoy the things we all take for granted.
Working with the injury lawyers of Gerson & Schwartz, Preetha’s mother brought this lawsuit so her family could have answers. Why wasn’t emergency equipment — particularly a defibrillator — not in place in the cruise ship’s spa? Why did the CPR-trained spa manager — employed by co-defendant Steiner Transocean — do nothing? Why was the arrival of the doctor unnecessarily delayed?
What deposition testimony revealed was that this tragic outcome was the result of widespread safety lapses. Royal Caribbean personnel and executives testified that the cruise line had an unwritten policy that crewman need not use the training they received unless they felt “comfortable” doing so — even if a life was at stake.
“This is completely contrary to international maritime law,” says Gerson, “and at trial we are going to show that. Maritime law is very clear on the matter: People trained in CPR are required to use CPR in a medical emergency. Royal Caribbean’s policy defies the law, defies common sense and is creates a serious risk for the vacationing public and the cruise ship industry.”
The hope, Gerson continues, is that “by showing this deviation from the law we can fix it, requiring Royal Caribbean to follow the rules — and make sure that those who work aboard ships aren’t just trained in first aid, but are expected to use their training, especially when it is needed urgently. We want to make sure, too, that all cruise ships have a defibrillator in every fitness center and spa. In short, we want to prevent senseless, needless, injuries like Preetha’s.”
But that quest, Gerson notes, has been difficult. “Royal Caribbean has made it extremely hard for us to get justice, making it unnecessarily burdensome to locate key witnesses in a timely fashion. The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida, said as much when it ruled that Royal Caribbean had hindered our search for the whereabouts of the ship’s doctor who ultimately resuscitated Preetha by giving us an address in care of an employment agency in South Africa when he was actually working on their very own ships.” (Amaran v. Marath, 34 So.3d 88 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010))
“They knew how to locate him but concealed it for two years” says Gerson.
While the November trial will look at what happened in Preetha’s case, Gerson says that its true impact will be in what happens after the case is decided: “What we hope — and expect — to see is not just justice for a grievously incapacitated young woman, but changes to an industry that has, for too long, put profits and convenience ahead of passenger safety — and their duties under the law.”
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.