Botched Cruise Ship Rescue Ends in Death of Elderly British Passenger

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

cruise passenger evacuationAccidents involving cruise ships can happen at a moment’s notice. The past two years, beginning with the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy, have seen a higher rate of accidents than in previous years, with lines seemingly refusing to improve their safety protocols. Our maritime attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have represented dozens of victims who were hurt as a result of a cruise line’s negligence and recognize when crew members fail to act quickly following an accident. Unfortunately, even in the wake of severe crashes, assaults and illnesses, the cruise industry just isn’t changing.

Though a victim of a cruise accident may suffer severe injuries, they may not even have their case heard until several years after the incident occurs, which is why it is imperative that anyone hurt because of a line’s negligence retain legal counsel as quickly as possible. This week, a case regarding a deceased passenger is being heard two years after the accident occurred. Sadly, it’s too late for the victim to obtain justice, but this case can hopefully serve as a deterrent to other cruise lines so they can improve their safety features, crew member training and also for all maritime emergency crews to abide by the highest standards of safety during rescue missions.

Back in 2011, a Cumbria, UK grandmother died following a botched cruise ship rescue. The 72-year-old victim fell to the icy waters below after being dropped into the Norwegian Sea during a rescue operation and officials are in the process of determining whether her death was attributed to the fall or the result of pre-existing conditions.

Whenever a passenger (or crew member) becomes ill or injured, the ship they are traveling in must do everything reasonably within their power to get them help. Most vessels are equipped with medical quarters that can treat mild conditions, but for victims who require more extensive medical care, lines must make arrangements for the patient to be airlifted to the nearest hospital for treatment.

The victim in this particular accident, Janet Richardson, had taken a cruise vacation with her husband George onboard the Majestic International Cruises’ ship, Ocean Countess, in hopes to see the Northern Lights in Norway when she became unwell. Richardson had already been suffering from several health issues when she grew worse onboard the ship.

Cruise officials made the decision to have her evacuated to a nearby hospital and notified emergency crews, but as she was being transferred to a rescue vessel on a stretcher, she was dropped into the chilling waters wearing only her night gown.

Unlike with many other accidents we have seen in the past, this case was not the result of the cruise line’s negligence, but of the emergency evacuation team. Yet, a more thorough investigation may reveal the cruise line may have contributed to the accident. Was the ship’s crew helping transfer the passenger onto the rescue vessel? If so, could they have made a mistake that caused the woman to fall? And if not, why wouldn’t a ship’s crew at least try to help carry the passenger or make sure she was safely onboard the new vessel?

There are many factors that tie into this horrible tragedy, but it is hard to point the fingers at just one person. This seems to have been a joint emergency effort, and as such, several people may be to blame.

Richardson spent an excruciating eight long minutes in the -3 degree Celsius waters before being removed and taken to a hospital in Norway. How is this even possible? It’s not like she fell overboard when no one was looking. Richardson was right in front of several cruise line and emergency rescue crews, so how did it take eight minutes for her to be removed from the water?

Miraculously, Richardson actually survived the drop, but died weeks later at the hospital. Now, officials and attorneys are trying to determine whether her death was the result of the near-drowning in the icy waters or if it was caused by her already deteriorating health condition. During a recent hearing, experts testified that Richardson had extensive underlying health problems that would have eventually claimed her life regardless, but determined that the hypothermia suffered from the drop was a “significant contributing factor.” Had the rescue not been botched, it is very likely Richardson would not have died so soon after the cruise.

Whether Richardson had underlying health issues or not, the fact that she was dropped during her evacuation is a severe example of negligence on the rescue team’s part. Rescue operators, whether for the Coast Guard, the cruise line or any other local emergency team, should always exercising extreme caution when moving patients, especially elderly patients like Richardson. Clearly, in this situation, the rescue team did not act with caution and their actions led the victim’s life to be cut short.

It’s safe to say that whether an individual is ill or not, we all want to live as long as possible. Richardson wanted to enjoy her last few years with her husband and may have been able to do so for a much longer time, had the rescue crew’s negligence not caused her to fall in the cold waters.

Our maritime accident attorneys understand that the fall was not deliberate, but there is simply no excuse for an emergency crew to miss a beat when it comes to a rescue mission. The victim’s surviving loved ones may be eligible to obtain compensation for Richardson’s death and have the right to retain legal counsel.

Our prayers go out to the victim’s family and hope they obtain some semblance of justice and peace for the negligent actions of the emergency crew.