By TOM STIEGHORST
A Dade County jury this week awarded $3.5 million to an employee of Royal Caribbean Cruises because the Miami based line refused to pay medical expenses of less than $1,000.
Laura Langmead, who had been working as a singer on a ship in 1987, filed for $235 in medical bills and $730 in sick pay after suffering an eye injury while exercising.
In 1990, Langmead won $50,000 in a trial for the accident in which an elastic exercise band snapped and hit her eye, but it was reduced to $5,000 because a jury ruled her 90 percent responsible for the injury.
A judge threw out Langmead’s claim for the doctor’s bill and sick pay, but his decision was reversed on appeal clearing the way for a second trial, Langmead’s lawyer, Miami attorney Charles Lipcon, said on Friday.
A six-person jury considered Lipcon‘s argument that Royal Caribbean willfully and deliberately refused to pay Langmead’s $235 bill for two visits to her doctor, plus time off for two weeks of recovery.
Lipcon also asked the jury to consider Royal Caribbean’s 1993 profit of $106 million when awarding punitive damages. On Wednesday, the jury reached its verdict.
Lipcon said the $3.5 million award is a lot of money, but not in relation to Royal Caribbean’s profits. “Under punitive damages, the amount has to be enough to teach them a lesson,” Lipcon said.
Royal Caribbean’ had little to say. “We are obviously disappointed with the jury’s decision as we do not believe it was based upon the evidence at trial,” a statement said. “The court has reserved ruling on whether it will allow the verdict to stand.”
Lipcon said Royal Caribbean is free to ask Dade County Circuit Judge Gerald T. Wetherington to set aside the verdict but pointed out an appeals court has already ruled on whether a jury could hear his case for punitive damages.
Langmead has resumed her work as a singer on a cruise ship but has to carefully monitor her eyes to make sure pressure doesn’t cause further damage to her vision, Lipcon said.
At the time of the injury, Langmead was working aboard a ship owned by Admiral Cruises. Admiral was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1988 and the line disbanded in 1992.