Via: Sun Sentinel
By: Ron Hurtibise
Royal Caribbean can face a lawsuit over a woman’s claim that cruise ship employees should have intervened to prevent her from being gang raped during a 2015 cruise, an appellate court has ruled.
The decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the suit for failing to state a claim.
The woman, identified in the suit as K.T., said the alleged attack happened aboard Oasis of the Seas on Dec. 26, 2015, while the then-Massachusetts resident was on a seven-day cruise from Port Everglades with her two sisters and grandparents. K.T.’s age at the time was not specified in the original lawsuit but is believed to have been between 15 and 17, the appellate ruling states.
Cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, have known for years about the prevalence of sexual assaults aboard their vessels, the ruling points out.
In 2007, the FBI’s deputy assistant director told Congress that sexual and physical assaults were the leading crimes reported to and investigated by his agency over the previous five years. That remains the case: From January 2016 to December 2018, passengers and crew members reported 228 sexual assaults on ships that arrive in or depart the United States, the FBI’s Cruise Line Incident Reports show. No other crime category comes close.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Chief Judge Ed Carnes said, “It would be absurd to suggest that a multi-billion dollar business like Royal Caribbean was not aware of congressional reports about the problem of sexual assaults aboard its cruise ships.”
On the first night of K.T.’s cruise, a group of nearly a dozen males bought her multiple alcoholic beverages in a public lounge and other public areas of the ship, according to a lawsuit she filed in U.S. District Court in Miami in 2016.
Only one of the male defendants is identified in K.T.’s lawsuit: Sebastian Talavera, a citizen of Paraguay. Neither the appellate court ruling nor the original lawsuit mentions whether any of the men were criminally charged.
After she became “highly intoxicated,” “obviously drunk, disoriented and unstable,” and “obviously incapacitated,” the group steered her “to a cabin where they brutally assaulted and gang raped her,” the complaint said.
Everything other than the alleged assault and gang rape happened in view of multiple Royal Caribbean crew members, including those responsible for monitoring the ship’s security cameras, the lawsuit states. But they did nothing to prevent the men from buying her alcohol, getting her drunk or leading her to the stateroom where she was raped, the woman said.
The district court found that K.T.’s negligence claims should be dismissed because they failed to sufficiently allege that Royal Caribbean breached its duty to care or that any breach caused her injuries.
In its ruling Wednesday, the three-member court of appeal concluded, “We conclude otherwise.”
K.T. “sufficiently alleged that she suffered actual harm” and the parties agree that Royal Caribbean owed K.T. a duty of “ordinary reasonable care under the circumstances.”
The appellate judges found that K.T. credibly alleged that the cruise line knew about previous assaults, batteries, sexual crimes and other violence between passengers and between passengers and crew.
Royal Caribbean spokesman Owen Torres said the company couldn’t comment on pending ligation. “We do take this allegation very seriously. The safety and security of our guests is our top priority,” he said in an email.
K.T.’s attorney, Michael Winkleman of Miami-based Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman P.A., wrote in an emailed statement that the ruling “finds that cruise lines have a duty to warn passengers about the risk of rapes and sexual assaults on their cruise ships.” He added, “This critically important decision shines a much-needed light on the hidden epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults on the high seas.”
According to K.T.’s complaint, Royal Caribbean “anticipated and foresaw that crimes would be perpetrated about its vessels” and also “had experienced and had actual knowledge of minors wrongfully being provided with or allowed to gain access to alcohol” and then becoming victims of assaults, batteries and sexual crimes by passengers and crew members.”
It also knew or should have known that the risks were enhanced by its “sale of copious amounts of alcohol” aboard its vessels, the complaint states.
Royal Caribbean argued that a finding that it was negligent would make it liable for harm passengers suffer on its ship and essentially “make cruise lines insurers of their passengers,” the ruling states.
“But we are not talking about strict liability,” the ruling states. “We are talking about negligence in failing to act to prevent a foreseeable or known danger. If K.T. can prove the allegations in her complaint, Royal Caribbean is liable for its negligence and that of its crew.”
If K.T.’s allegations are true, the cruise line also had a duty to warn the minor and her grandparents of the known dangers of sexual assault aboard its ships, the ruling states.