Drivers in Jamaica are known for driving erratically, particularly on narrow winding roads, a detail that often shocks cruise passengers who stop on the island for a shore excursion.
But last January, one reckless drive ended in death for one passenger and injury for more than a dozen others after a tour bus driver collided with a truck en route to Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas.
The crash is now at the center of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami on Monday that pits Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises, the parent company, against eight passengers involved in the Jan.14, 2016 crash in Falmouth, Jamaica. The plaintiffs include one South Florida man and residents of North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan and Illinois.
Just because they get off the cruise ship, doesn’t mean their responsibility ends to make sure the passengers are safe. Jacqueline Garcell, attorney with Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman representing the plaintiffs
The passengers, who were on a five-day voyage from Port Everglades, had purchased an excursion that included a trip to Dunn’s River Falls, a popular tourist stop near Ocho Rios, and marine attraction Dolphin Cove. The excursion was arranged by Royal Caribbean and offered to all guests on board.
During the trip, the driver was “speeding, driving erratically and changing lanes frequently,” the passengers allege, even after several of them asked that the driver slow down. The tour operator on the bus with them assured the passengers that “the bus driver was driving the way he normally drove and/or the way everyone typically drove in Jamaica,” according to the lawsuit.
But when the driver got to a two-lane road near a curve with limited visibility, he drove into oncoming traffic in order to pass another vehicle. A truck coming in the other direction broadsided the bus when the driver swerved to avoid the collision, the lawsuit says.
According to the suit, the bus flipped over several times, causing the plaintiffs “severe and permanent injuries” and leading to the death of one passenger. Three passengers were sent to Falmouth Public General Hospital.
At the time, Royal Caribbean released a statement reporting the death and adding that “crew members are at the hospital with our guests in order to help respond to this terrible incident.”
18 of 21 passengers on the Jamaican tour bus suffered injuries.
Jacqueline Garcell, a lawyer on the case with Miami-based firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman, which specializes in maritime injury claims, said 18 of 21 total passengers on the bus suffered injuries that ranged from scrapes and bruises to orthopedic injuries and fractures.
Garcell said the passengers were also made to believe that the excursion was operated by Royal Caribbean, when in fact they later learned the excursion was led by Excursion Entities, a Jamaican tour operator. But, because the excursion was marketed as a Royal Caribbean trip, “for all intents and purposes these entities are part of the cruise line,” she said.
“As far as the cruise line’s responsibility, they have a responsibility to make sure the passengers are safe from the beginning of the cruise to the end of the cruise,” Garcell said. “Just because they get off the cruise ship, doesn’t mean their responsibility ends to make sure the passengers are safe.”
Royal Caribbean declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The passengers allege that the injuries they sustained are “permanent or continuing in nature,” and that they “will suffer the loses and impairments in the future.” They are requesting damages and a trial by jury.