Members of the maritime law firm of Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have successfully presented and argued a number of landmark cases. Most of them are in the area of admiralty and maritime law and deal with claims by passengers or seafarers.
What is a Landmark Case?
A landmark case or court decision is one in which new precedents are established, a new or substantially new legal principle is introduced or the law itself is substantively changed. Such a decision may signal the start of a shift in the law that can have broad and significant impact on future cases.
Handling a landmark case is challenging for cruise ship lawyers because it represents an attempt to “make new law” or to change existing laws. Courts are not legislative bodies and do not favor changing established trends or interpretations of the law. Courts are bound by a legal principle called, “stare decisis,” which is Latin for “to let the decision stand.” Judges are obliged to respect the precedent, or the legal message, of prior decisions.
Landmark case decisions are extremely rare and most law firms are lucky to have been involved in even one landmark case. They primarily occur at high level courts of appeals when appeals of legal matters from lower courts have reached conflicting or inconsistent conclusions. Landmark cases are rare in maritime law, because this area of the law is well-established and derives its roots in the English common law of the sea. Many principles or maritime law have been established for hundreds of years.
Representative landmark cases handled by our cruise lawyers include:
First Asbestos Trial Against Cruise Line Yields $3.6 Million Awarded to Estate of Shipboard Electrician
CARAFFA v. CARNIVAL CORPORATION, Case No. 06-00964 CA 42 (11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Estate of deceased Italian shipboard electrician sued Carnival in Circuit Court in and for Miami-Dade County Florida. Trial 12/3/14 – 12/16/14 before Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola.
OVERVIEW: Our firm brought a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Line on behalf of the Estate of an Italian shipboard electrician who worked aboard Carnival ships from 1985 through 2000. Notably, the Plaintiff worked aboard 4 steamships which asbestos as an insulator in the engine rooms and machine spaces – as testified to by a former Carnival chief engineer. Our firm assembled a team including the Italian occupational physician who first related the crew member’s cancer to asbestos exposure and the Italian pathologist who performed an autopsy – who both opined that the Plaintiff’s cancer was related to asbestos exposure which occurred during his employment with Carnival. The lawsuit against Carnival sought pre-death pain and suffering, and loss of earnings and support to the crew member’s family as a result of his asbestos related cancer. The case culminated in a 9 day trial and a 3.5 hour deliberation by the jury.
OUTCOME: The jury awarded the plaintiff $10.3 million dollars and found that he was 65% comparatively negligent for having smoked over 20 years before his death, resulting in a net verdict for the Plaintiff of $3.6 million.
Cruise Lines Held Liable to Passenger for the Negligence of Ship’s Doctor, Even Though Doctor is an Independent Contractor
CARLISLE vs. CARNIVAL CORPORATION 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 12794 (Fla. App. 3rd 2003)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant parents appealed from the entry of summary judgment by the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County (Florida), in favor of appellee cruise line, in the parents’ suit seeking to hold the cruise line vicariously liable for the negligence of a ship’s doctor in his treatment of their daughter.
OVERVIEW: The parents argued that the cruise line was vicariously liable for the doctor’s negligence under agency and apparent agency law. The appellate court held that the cruise line had control over the doctor’s medical services for agency law purposes. The doctor was to provide medical services to passengers and crew in accordance with the cruise line’s guidelines. As it was foreseeable that some passengers at sea would develop medical problems and that the only realistic alternative for such a passenger was treatment by the ship’s doctor, the cruise line had an element of control over the doctor-patient relationship. The holding of the Barbetta v. S/S Bermuda Star, 848 F.2d 1364 (5th Cir.1988), line of cases was rejected. The cruise line’s duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances extended to the actions of a ship’s doctor placed on board by the cruise line. For purposes of fulfilling the cruise line’s duty to exercise reasonable care, the ship’s doctor was an agent of the cruise line whose negligence was imputed to the cruise line. 46 U.S.C.S. app. § 183c invalidated the cruise ticket’s purported limitation of the cruise line’s liability for the negligence of its agents.
OUTCOME: The summary judgment was reversed on the issue of vicarious liability, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Malpractice Claim Against a Cruise Line
Supreme Court rules that seaman can recover punitive damages in admiralty for maintenance and cure situations.
ATLANTIC SOUNDING CO., INC., ET AL. v. TOWNSEND
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 08–214. Argued March 2, 2009—Decided June 25, 2009
Atlantic Sounding Co. allegedly refused to pay maintenance and cure torespondent Townsend for injuries he suffered while working on itstugboat, and then filed this declaratory relief action regarding its ob-ligations. Townsend filed suit under the Jones Act and general mari-time law, alleging, inter alia, arbitrary and willful failure to provide maintenance and cure. He filed similar counterclaims in the declara-tory judgment action, seeking punitive damages for the maintenanceand cure claim. The District Court denied petitioners’ motion to dis-miss the punitive damages claim, but certified the question for inter-locutory appeal. Following its precedent, the Eleventh Circuit heldthat punitive damages may be awarded for the willful withholding of maintenance and cure.
Held: Because punitive damages have long been an accepted remedy under general maritime law, and because neither Miles v. Apex Ma-rine Corp., 498 U. S. 19, nor the Jones Act altered this understand-ing, punitive damages for the willful and wanton disregard of themaintenance and cure obligation remain available as a matter ofgeneral maritime law. Pp. 2–19.
Settled legal principles establish three points central to this case. Pp. 2–9.
Punitive damages have long been an available remedy at common law for wanton, willful, or outrageous conduct. English lawduring the colonial era accorded juries the authority to award suchdamages when warranted. And American courts have likewise per-mitted such damages since at least 1784. This Court has also found punitive damages authorized as a matter of common-law doctrine. See, e.g., Day v. Woodworth, 13 How. 363. Pp. 3–5.
Seafarer Injured in Separate Accident on Land While Getting Maintenance and Cure From the Shipowner or Employer Was Entitled to Received Continued Maintenance and Cure for the Separate Accident
DUARTE vs. ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES,LTD. 761 So. 2d 367; (Fla. App. 3rd 2000)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant seaman sought review of an adverse decision of the Circuit Court for Dade County (Florida), granting summary judgment in appellee cruise line’s favor on a claim for the continuation of maintenance and cure following appellant’s injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
OVERVIEW: Appellant was a seaman who was receiving maintenance and cure for several months when she was injured in an automobile accident. Appellee refused to pay appellant maintenance and cure for expenses arising from the accident, and appellant filed suit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee. The appellate court reversed, holding that appellant was receiving maintenance and cure at the time of the accident because she had yet to obtain maximum medical recovery. Under such a situation, appellant was still in the service of the ship and thus entitled to maintenance and cure for the additional injuries incurred.
OUTCOME: Judgment reversed. Appellant had not yet obtained maximum medical recovery at the time she sustained injuries in a car accident; thus, appellee cruise line’s refusal to pay for maintenance and cure for such injuries was improper.
State Medical Malpractice Presuit Procedures Did Not Apply to Claim of Medical Negligence by Passenger Against Doctor and Nurse on Cruise Line Vessel
RAND vs. HATCH 762 So. 2d 1001 (Fla. App. 3rd 2000)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Petitioners, doctor and nurse, sought certiorari review to the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County (Florida) of the denial of their motion to dismiss the complaint for medical negligence filed by respondents husband and wife. In denying the motion to dismiss, the trial court found general maritime law, rather than Florida law, applied to the petitioners’ alleged medical malpractice.
OVERVIEW: Respondent wife visited the cruise ship’s infirmary to have her blood sugar level checked. Petitioners concluded it was necessary to inject her with insulin. As a result, respondent wife lost consciousness and began convulsing. Respondents sued petitioners, who moved to dismiss on the grounds that respondents failed to comply with the presuit screening requirements of Florida’s Medical Malpractice Act prior to filing in state court. The trial court denied the motion, reasoning there was no presuit screening process required for medical malpractice suits arising from injuries which occurred at sea because they were covered under general maritime law, not state law. The court concluded there was no basis for certiorari review of the trial court’s decision because there had been no departure from the essential requirements of law. The lower court was correct in denying the motion to dismiss because general maritime law applied.
OUTCOME: Petition denied; the trial court properly applied general maritime law, which had no presuit screening requirements, to deny petitioners’ motion to dismiss. A commercial cruise ship and an onboard injury, coupled with the relationship between the passenger/patient and the shipboard medical staff provided the sufficient nexus with traditional maritime activity.
Federal Court Rules Seafarers who Become Sick or Injured While Working on a Ship are Entitled to Lost Tips as Part of Their Sick Wages Under Maintenance and Cure
FLORES v. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, 47 F.3d 1120, (C.A. 11th 1995)
OVERVIEW: Appellant seaman filed a class action suit under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, against appellee, cruise ship’s owner, seeking compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of all crew members of appellee who became sick or injured and who did not receive their reasonably anticipated lost tips or, in the alternative, monthly guaranteed tips. The trial court granted appellee’s motion for summary judgment on both the compensatory and punitive damages claims. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to punitive damages and reversed as to appellant’s compensatory claim. The court held that the maintenance and cure remedy dictated that the measure of appellant’s unearned wages should have included the tips he would have earned had he not become disabled. The court relied upon workers’ compensation cases defining average weekly wage to include both the base salary and average tip income. The court calculated appellant’s tips on the basis of the average amount in weekly tips appellant received for the work he performed on the ship. The court held that appellant was not entitled to punitive damages because appellee did not exhibit willful and wanton misconduct.
OUTCOME: The court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of appellee, cruise ship’s owner, on appellant seaman’s compensatory damages claim and remanded because appellant was entitled to recover tips under the remedy of wages provided by admiralty law. The court held that appellant was not entitled to punitive damages because appellee did not exhibit willful and wanton misconduct.
Seaman had Retaliatory Discharge Claim Against Vessel Owner by Reason of Being Fired for Refusing to Lie Under Oath for the Shipping Company
BAITON v. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, INC 61 So. 2d 313 (Fla. App. 3rd 1995)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appeal from the judgment of Circuit Court of Dade County (Florida), dismissing plaintiff’s case for failure to state a cause of action, plaintiff arguing that he established a basis for suing defendant for retaliatory discharge under federal maritime law and the state whistle-blower statute.
OVERVIEW: Plaintiff was a seaman employed by defendant as an at-will employee. Plaintiff alleged that defendant discharged him in retaliation for his agreement to testify for another employee against defendant in a personal injury case, and for his refusal to give a false statement. Plaintiff sued defendant for retaliatory discharge under federal maritime law and under the state whistle-blower statute, Fla. Stat. ch. 448.101-105 (1993). The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint. The appellate court held that allowing plaintiff to be subjected to retaliatory discharge would have constituted an abuse of defendant’s absolute right to terminate plaintiff, because utilization of the right contravened the established public policy of requiring truthful testimony in the adjudicatory process. Finally, plaintiff also established a cause of action under the state whistle-blower statute.
OUTCOME: The order dismissing the complaint was reversed because plaintiff alleged proper causes of action against defendant for retaliatory discharge under the federal maritime law, and under the state whistle-blower statute, Fla. Stat. ch. 448.101-105 (1993).
Physician with Staff Privileges had Claim Against Hospital for Tortious Interference, Breach of Contract and Good Faith Claims Where Hospital Interfered with Patient Referrals
GREENBERG, M.D., v. MOUNT SINAI MEDICAL CENTER OF GREATER MIAMI, INC., 629 So. 2d 252 (Fla. App. 3rd 1993)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant doctors sought review from the Circuit Court for Dade County (Florida), which dismissed their complaint against appellee hospital and department chairman alleging tortious interference with advantageous business relationships, civil conspiracy for tortious interference with advantageous business relationships, restraint of trade, breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence.
OVERVIEW: Appellant doctors alleged that they began experiencing difficulty in obtaining certain hospital privileges after appellee chairman became head of the cardiovascular department at appellee hospital. Appellants claimed appellees influenced patients to avoid appellees. The court reversed the dismissal of appellants’ claim for tortious interference with advantageous business relationships because appellants’ allegations were sufficient to state a claim for intentional interference. The court reversed the dismissal of appellants’ civil conspiracy claim because appellants established the underlying tort of interference and alleged that appellees had an independent personal stake in achieving the object of the conspiracy, although appellants failed to establish abuse of economic power. Appellants’ restraint of trade complaint was properly dismissed because they failed to allege a per se violation or anticompetitive effects of appellees’ action on the cardiovascular surgery market. Appellants’ claims against appellee hospital for breach of contract and implied covenant of good faith were improperly dismissed because administrative remedies were inadequate and did not have to be exhausted.
OUTCOME: The court affirmed the dismissal of appellants’ negligence claims because the economic loss rule barred the claims. The court affirmed the dismissal of appellants’ restraint of trade complaint because there was no allegation of a per se violation or effect on the market. The court reversed the dismissal of appellants’ tortious interference with business relationship claims, civil conspiracy and breach of contract and good faith claims.
Seaman Did Not Need an Expert Witness at Trial
SOLANO v. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, INC., 491 So. 2d 325 (Fla. App. 3rd 1986)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant sought review of a decision of the Circuit Court for Dade County (Florida), which directed a verdict in favor of appellees in appellant’s Jones Act/unseaworthiness proceeding. The court based its judgment on the finding that, in the absence of expert testimony, there was no evidence to go to the jury that would establish that any acts or omissions by appellees proximately caused appellant’s injuries.
OVERVIEW: In a Jones Act/unseaworthiness proceeding brought against appellees, the trial court directed a verdict in favor of appellees on the basis that, in the absence of expert testimony, there was no evidence to go to the jury that would establish that any acts or omissions by appellees proximately caused appellant’s injuries. The appellate court reversed and remanded the trial court decision. The court found that appellant was competent to testify as a lay witness regarding the effect that noxious fumes had upon his body while painting a ship’s generator room without ventilation. The court found that appellant testified, without contradiction, that the fumes from paint caused him to become dizzy, resulting in his subsequent slip and fall. The court held that no expert testimony was required to establish a prima facie case. The court further held that, given the featherweight burden of proof necessary to establish Jones Act negligence, and the exceptionally light burden of proof necessary to establish proximate cause in unseaworthiness cases, it was error for the trial court to have directed a verdict.
OUTCOME: The appellate court reversed and remanded a trial court decision, which directed a verdict in favor of appellees in appellant’s Jones Act/unseaworthiness proceeding. The court held that the trial court erred in directing a verdict in favor of appellees on the basis that, in the absence of expert testimony, there was no evidence to go to the jury that would establish that any acts or omissions by appellees proximately caused appellant’s injuries.
Even Though Seaman Settled Injury Claim Prior to His Death, His Family Could Make a Second Recovery for the Same Accident
BODDEN v. AMERICANOFFSHORE, INC. 681 F.2d 319; (C.A. 5th 1982)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: The husband and father of plaintiff wife and children died as a result of injuries sustained on board defendant ship owners’ vessel. Prior to his death, the decedent settled a claim for injuries that he sustained on board defendants’ vessel while the vessel was at sea. Plaintiffs brought an action for wrongful death pursuant to the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688 et seq., and general maritime law, and defendants were held jointly and severally liable. On appeal by defendants, the court affirmed the award of damages. The court found that the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C.S. § 761 et seq., furnished the exclusive remedy for injuries occurring outside the three-mile limit to which general maritime law was applicable. The court also held that the rule that a survivor could not recover non-pecuniary damages by its own terms only applied to Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688 cases arising in territorial waters. The court reasoned that because the boiler explosion on defendants’ ship that ultimately resulted in the death of plaintiffs’ spouse and father occurred on the high seas, the recovery was permitted.
OUTCOME: Judgment in favor of plaintiff spouse and children for wrongful death damages was affirmed. The court found that defendant ship owners were liable under the Death on the High Seas Act for wrongful death injuries sustained outside of the three-mile limit of the general maritime law regardless of claims settled prior to decedent’s death.
Error to Allow Proof of Receipt of Workers Compensation Benefits into Evidence at Trial
COOK, v. ENEY, M.D., 277 So. 2d 848; (Fla. App. 3rd 1973)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant sought review of a judgment from the trial court (Florida) in favor of appellee medical doctor in a medical malpractice suit.
OVERVIEW: Appellant brought suit against appellee medical doctor for medical malpractice. A jury entered a verdict for appellee and the trial court entered judgment. Appellant sought review of judgment in favor of appellee. The court stated the general rule that to bring before the jury information as to an injured plaintiff’s right to workmen’s compensation benefits constituted prejudicial error, since such information would be likely to influence the jury against the plaintiff. The court found that the trial court erred in allowing appellee’s counsel to question appellant with respect to his receipt of social security and workmen’s compensation benefits, and thus reversed the decision.
OUTCOME: The court reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for new trial. The court held that appellant was prejudiced by questions with respect to his receipt of social security and workmen’s compensation benefits.
Error in Medical Negligence Case to not Allow Interrogatories Regarding Textbooks Regarded as Authoritative by Defendant Physician
BUGA v.WIENER, M.D. 277 So. 2d 296; (Fla. App. 4th 1973)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiffs, patient and her husband, sought review of a decision from the Circuit Court, Broward County (Florida), which, based upon a jury verdict, entered judgment in favor of defendant physician on plaintiffs’ medical malpractice complaint. Plaintiffs sought damages for defendant’s alleged negligence in treating plaintiff patient, and on an alternate theory of liability, based upon a breach of contract claim.
OVERVIEW: Plaintiffs, patient and her husband, filed a complaint against defendant physician, charging that defendant negligently performed a manipulation of plaintiff patient’s knee. As an alternate theory of liability, the complaint charged that defendant entered into a contract with plaintiff patient to perform a manipulation to eliminate stiffness in her knee, but breached the contract because the manipulation resulted in a locked leg. Based upon a jury verdict, the lower court entered judgment in defendant’s favor. Plaintiffs contended that the lower court erred in sustaining defendant’s objections to several of plaintiffs’ interrogatories, and that the lower court erred in instructing the jury. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The appellate court held that two of the contested interrogatories were valid as being reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence, because they called for a listing of textbooks recognized by defendant as authoritative to plaintiff patient’s treatment. The appellate court further determined that the lower court’s instructions that were inconsistent with plaintiffs’ theory of recovery constituted reversible error.
OUTCOME: The lower court’s judgment in favor of defendant physician on negligence and breach of contract claims brought by plaintiffs, patient and her husband, was reversed and remanded for a new trial. The appellate court held that the lower court erred in sustaining an objection to two interrogatories, and the trial court’s error in giving inconsistent jury instructions constituted reversible error.
First Class Action in Admiralty Allowed
HERNANDEZ v. The MOTOR VESSEL SKYWARD 61 F.R.D. 558 (S.D. Fla. 1973)
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: In an action for breach of contract, negligence, and breach of implied warranty of fitness arising out of a pleasure cruise during which the passengers and the crew were exposed to contaminated food or water, plaintiff passengers filed a motion to certify their action against defendant cruise line as a class action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(1)(A).
OVERVIEW: The cruise line contended that a mass tort or mass accident case was unsuitable for class action treatment. The court held that only the negligence issue was available for class treatment because a ruling on that issue would be applicable to any prospective claimant and the requirements under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 for class treatment of that issue were present in the case. The other issues pertaining to proximate cause, contract liability, adequacy of medical treatment afforded to each passenger, and damages were individual in nature and could not be certified for class treatment. The court held that the interests of all concerned would be advanced by a single determination of the negligence issue under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(4)(A).
OUTCOME: The court certified for class treatment the single issue of negligence in the preparation of food and water provided to the passengers.