By Joyce Hanson — Additional reporting by Cara Salvatore. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.
A Florida federal judge said Carnival Corp. still faces a wrongful death suit’s claim that the cruise line was deficient in checking the credentials of a doctor who treated a passenger suffering a fatal heart attack, saying the man’s wife sufficiently showed its hiring practices were negligent.
U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. on Thursday dismissed Mary Ann Murphy’s claim that Carnival negligently hired and retained two nurses who were aboard ship when the plaintiff’s husband, Daniel Murphy, sought medical treatment. But the judge affirmed that she had shown that Dr. Chenna Mandi’s resume reveals a lack of experience, education, licensing and language skills.
“Upon careful review, the court finds that the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts regarding Dr. Mandi’s incompetence,” Judge Scola wrote. “The plaintiff alleges that Carnival failed to check Dr. Mandi’s references or validate his professional documentation regarding his credentials and licenses.”
Murphy’s Aug. 29 second amended complaint also alleges that Carnival’s hiring criteria require that doctors be graduates of accredited university medical schools, but that Dr. Mandi is not, according to the judge. In addition, the complaint states that he did not obtain a requisite three years or more of post-graduate experience, as required by Carnival’s hiring criteria, the judge said.
“This is sufficient to state a claim at the motion to dismiss stage,” Judge Scola wrote.
The judge trimmed the case on Aug. 20, ruling that Mary Ann Murphy could not pursue punitive damages and certain other claims against the cruise line over her husband’s onboard heart attack death in May 2018, which happened two days after the ship’s medical staff had treated and released him.
Judge Scola dismissed the claim for punitive damages with prejudice, saying it was unclear whether such claims are allowed under the Death on the High Seas Act — the statutory basis for the suit — but that it did not appear they would be.
“Although the Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court have not expressly ruled on this issue, decisions from this court have consistently rejected efforts to retain punitive damages awards for claims governed by DOHSA,” the judge said.
But the judge refused to dismiss claims alleged against Carnival for direct negligence and for vicarious liability for the acts of the medical defendants.
Other claims were dismissed without prejudice, including the claim for negligent hiring and retention. The judge said Aug. 20 that Murphy “has not asserted any facts that Carnival’s background checks and hiring practices were deficient,” but gave her another try to add those facts to the pleadings.
Murphy initially filed suit in April on behalf of herself and her two children born in 1997.
She alleges that she and her husband were traveling on a Carnival cruise liner called Dream in May 2018 when Daniel Murphy started experiencing “chest pain, discomfort, profuse sweating, chills, stomach ache, diarrhea, lethargy, and weakness,” and went to the shipboard medical center.
But the treatment Daniel Murphy received there was subpar, his widow says. His low temperature was not looked into, and an electrocardiogram machine that was supposed to monitor his heart function either wasn’t working or wasn’t being used properly by staff, according to the initial and amended complaints.
There apparently were results from the machine, but a doctor “misinterpreted” them, according to Mary Ann Murphy, and staff allegedly ignored Daniel’s low blood pressure.
Daniel Murphy then was sent back to his stateroom for a 24-hour quarantine, where staff allegedly failed to monitor him. Two days after going to the medical center, he died of a heart attack aboard the Dream, the filings said.
A lawyer for Murphy, Andrew Freedman of Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman PA, told Law360 in an email Friday, “We are satisfied with the court’s ruling and look forward to moving on to the next phase of this case.”
Representatives for Carnival did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.
Murphy is represented by Andrew Freedman and Michael Winkleman of Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman PA.
Carnival is represented by Christopher Knight, Katina Hardee and Marc Schleier of Fowler White Burnett PA.
The case is Murphy v. Carnival Corp. et al., case number 1:19-cv-21450, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.