February 27, 2015

South Florida and Legionnaires' Disease and the Law

Miami Legionnaires Disease Law.jpgSouth Florida had its share of Legionnaires' Disease outbreaks over the recent years. Florida's Department of Health defines "Legionnaires' Disease" as an infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia. Symptoms associated with the disease often include muscle aches, high fever, cough, and chills. Unfortunately, as noted by the Florida Department of Health, this disease "thrive[s] in warm, aquatic environments." The Department and U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized yearly in the United States as a result of the disease.

While Legionnaires' is not contagious in the sense that one person can pass it along to another, it can --and usually is-- contracted when a person inhales the bacterium when it is airborne. For example, back in 2009, the disease killed one and caused 300 others to relocate from the EPIC Hotel in Miami. As one news outlet reported, investigators discovered that the hotel's installed water filtration system at the time was so powerful that it removed chlorine from the "city-supplied water source," which in turn caused the bacteria to grow. In this case, the bacterial disease could spread via "contaminated water vapor." In a hotel setting, water sources contaminated with the bacterium can spread through the use of the faucet or shower, specifically through the mist that is emitted from such water.

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February 24, 2015

Boater Negligence and Florida Dive Flag Law

Dive Flag Sign.jpgFlorida SCUBA divers and snorkelers face an all too common threat when engaging in their favorite aquatic activity. That threat is negligent boat operators. In most dive accident cases it is found that the boat operator failed to abide by and/or follow regulations that provide for boating restricted areas. Sadly, this failure to follow the law many times leads to injuries, and sometimes, death.

In 2013 alone, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ("FWC") issued 506 citations for "Negligent Operation of a Vessel." When including data on all law enforcement agencies (not just the FWC), 642 uniform boating citations were issued for such a violation. The FWC's Boating Accidents Statistical Report outlines 5 categories that fall within the purview of such a citation: (1) reckless operation of a vessel; (2) careless operation of a vessel; (3) navigation rule violation resulting in an accident; (4) navigation rule violation not resulting in an accident; (5) failure to report an accident. Accordingly, one's negligent operation of a watercraft may overlap with other violations of safety ordinances.

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February 13, 2015

Senator McCain's efforts to repeal Jones Act fails

Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite Associated jpgLast month, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sought an amendment to repeal the Jones Act. In a January 13, 2015 Press Release published on his website, Sen. McCain states, "I have long advocated for a full repeal of The Jones Act, an antiquated law that has for too long hindered free trade, made the U.S. industry less competitive and raised prices for American consumers." McCain concludes his statement by calling for his colleagues to "join in this important effort to repeal this archaic legislation to spur job creation and promote free trade." While the Arizona senator is quick to mention the alleged positives that come with repealing the Jones Act, with catch phrases like "job creation" and "free trade," his Press Release fails to address how repealing the Act will eliminate a means of compensation to a large class of employees known as "seamen." Masters, captains, officers, crewmembers, deckhands--to name a few--will all lose a right to sue their employers under a law that's been around for almost a century.

The Jones Act provides a way for employee seamen to hold their employers civilly liable for their injuries, and in more unfortunate cases, death, when such was a result of the employer's negligence. The Act is especially important for seamen given the unique and continuous risks of serious personal injury and death they face on a daily basis. As many courts have noted, by passing the Jones Act, Congress gave seaman a means of obtaining compensation for their injuries, which were "sustained in an inherently dangerous profession." See Am. River Transp. Co. v. Phelps, 189 F. Supp. 2d 835, 849 (S.D. Ill. 2001) (citing Kelley v. Sun Transp. Co., 900 F.2d 1027, 1031 (7th Cir. 1990)).

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February 10, 2015

Everglades Airboat Crash Injures Two

Everglades Airboat Injury.jpgA private and a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission airboat collided in the Everglades last Tuesday injuring two women passengers. The crash happened a mile and a half south of mile marker 34 off I-75 in Broward County around 12:50 p.m. The impact from the accident left the private airboat inoperable. One of the injured women is a 24-year-old University of Florida student who was aboard the Wildlife Conservation Commission preforming research on bats. The other is a 37-year-old woman who sustained more serious injuries. Both injured passengers were placed on the Wildlife Conservation Commission airboat and transported to land before being taken to the hospital. The Marine Division of the Broward County Sheriffs Office is investigating the accident.

February 6, 2015

Hollywood Man Dies When Boat Overturned Off Fort Lauderdale

76-year-old German Diaz of Hollywood, Florida has died when the 16 foot boat he and family members were aboard overturned in bad weather. The accident happened on February 4th just off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. Reports state Diaz and four member of his family were fishing when the weather conditions deteriorated. They tied the boat to a buoy to ride out the storm. When they tried to untie the line, it got tangled with the propeller causing the boat because to take on water before overturning. Everyone in the group were able to hold onto the overturned boat except Diaz. Divers ultimately found Diaz trapped under the boat wearing his life jacket.

February 5, 2015

Man Goes Overboard The Sapphire Princess

Thumbnail image for Princess Sapphire.jpgPhoto credit: Cruize Cast

Last week, a Cruise Critic blog posting reported a man went overboard a Princess Cruise Line vessel, the Sapphire. The young man allegedly dove from one of the Sapphire's decks, perhaps the highest deck--14. Per the post, the captain announced "man overboard" and others threw life jackets in order to mark the area where the man made impact with the water. The cruise ship was turned and rigid inflatable boats equipped with search lights were deployed. The man was found alive.

The reason behind the man going overboard is still unclear. While it was reported that the man intended to dive overboard, it is not known if this was an attempted suicide. Princess Cruises has yet to issue a statement regarding this alarming but all too common occurrence. Back in May 2013, the International Business Times featured an article on "How Many Cruise Ship Passengers Go Overboard Each Year?" and noted the findings of Dr. Ross Klein of CruiseJunkie.com. According to Dr. Klein, who has testified before Congress on a number of occasions and authored books like "Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Ship Industry," there were 23 passenger overboard incidents in 2012 alone. Furthermore, per Mr. Klein's alleged statistics, he claims that nearly half of all overboard incidents since 2000, or 94 out of 200, have occurred on Carnival ships or corporate subsidiaries such as Costa, Cunard, P&O, Princess and Holland America.

Thus, it is important to exercise an abundance of caution when onboard cruise ships, especially when near railing areas or looking overboard decks. While the man featured in this blog post miraculously survived, many others have not been as fortunate.

February 3, 2015

Coast Guard Rescues Ill Passenger from Galveston Based Cruise Ship

Galveston Cruise Rescue.jpgThe first several weeks of 2015 have seen many medical evacuations from cruise ships. This time the Coast Guard rescued a passenger from the Galveston based Carnival Magic last Saturday. The emergency call was placed near 9 p.m. from the cruise ship's medical staff stating that a 51-year-old female passenger was suffering from respiratory problems. Air Station Houston dispatched a rescue helicopter. An ATC Mobile HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew was also launched to support the rescue. The rescue teams met up with the Carnival Magic 184 miles off the coast of Galveston. The passenger, along with the cruise ship's nurse, were hoisted onto the helicopter and taken to Scholes Airport. There an EMS team was standing by to transport them to University of Texas Medical Branch. Lieutenant Commander, Scott Sanborn, the operations officer at Air Station Houston stated, "Whenever we are responding to a case that is a significant distance offshore the risk is elevated, but with the expertise of both air crews, as well as the seamless coordination from the Sector Houston-Galveston command center personnel, we were able to safely transport the woman to the highest medical care possible."

The passenger is reported to be in stable condition.

February 2, 2015

Palm Beach's Grand Celebration Cruise Ship Fails Safety Inspection

The maiden voyage of Palm Beach's newest cruise ship the Grand Celebration was cancelled after it failed to pass a Coast Guard safety inspection. Several hundred passengers were hoping to watch Super Bowl and take advantage of the Grand Celebration's amenities over a two day cruise. After delaying the voyage for several hours, Charlie Kinnear, president of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, announced to the passengers that the cruise ship's public address system failed inspection. Without out having a properly functioning public address system, the ship could not be cleared to leave port. The ship's public address system is vital to passenger safety as it serves as the principal mean to communicate instructions in case of an emergency. Passengers were given the option of reschedule their voyages along with another free cruise or receive a refund. The Port of Palm Beach has not had a cruise ship since the Bahamas Celebration grounded in Freeport, The Bahamas last October 31st. The ill fated Bahamas Celebration was also owned by company of which Charlie Kinnear was president.

February 1, 2015

Coast Guard Medevacs Woman From Cruise Ship

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard received a call from the Norwegian Gem, requesting an emergency medevac for a 66 year old passenger who was experiencing complications arising from diabetes. Per reports, the Coast Guard received the call around 11:45 a.m. and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was dispatched from Elizabeth City. At the time of the medevac, the woman was approximately 220 miles southeast of Portsmouth. The Coast Guard made it to the cruise ship around 2:30 p.m., evacuating the woman and taking her to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. It was last reported that she was in stable condition.

Reports fail to mention how the woman's complications were discovered in this case, but, nevertheless, a cruise ship's prompt and adequate diagnosis of a passenger's medical condition can some times be the difference between life and death. As previously reported by our blog, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals' recent Franza decision now holds a cruise ship liable for the medical malpractice of its shipboard doctors. Medical malpractice cases aboard cruise ships often involve a shipboard doctor's failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of a passenger's condition, such as a stroke or heart attack. Luckily for this woman, it appears her condition was diagnosed by someone in time. A video of the medevac can be viewed below.


January 29, 2015

Royal Caribbean's Effort to Overrule Decision Making Cruise Lines Liable for Medical Malpractice Thwarted

Royal Caribbean Cruise Injury Law.jpgWe reported last November that the Federal Eleventh Circuit issued a landmark opinion called Franza v. Royal Caribbean. This ruling found cruise lines can be held vicariously liable for the medical malpractice of their ship board doctors. Prior to the Franza decision, trial courts would routinely dismiss passenger claims brought against cruise lines for doctors' malfeasance finding they are independent contractors. Being that most cruise ship doctors are from foreign countries, it was very difficult to obtain jurisdiction over their tortious acts in the United States. This caused devastating results for passengers who suffered at the hands of substandard doctors and for the families of loved ones who died because the cruise ship doctors provided poor care. Many truly hurt people were forced to go without just compensation as they were not allowed to sue the cruise lines for medical malpractice or unable to obtain jurisdiction over culpable foreign doctors. Franza changed this.

The Eleventh Circuit's opinion rejected the Fifth Circuit's 1988 Barbetta opinion which found cruise lines could not be sued for medical malpractice as they had no legal duty to provide their passengers with medical services of contracting doctors. The Eleventh Circuit, on the other hand, commented that there is a long history of precedent within maritime law that holds ship operators liable for the bad acts of their agents. The Eleventh Circuit then commented that given the cruise line charges for the doctors' services, have them ware uniforms and can terminate their services, a jury should make the factual determination of whether those doctors are no independent contractors.

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January 28, 2015

Sick Child Rescued from Carnival Cruise Ship

Houston area news outlets are reporting that the Coast Guard rescued a sick 8-month-old baby girl from the Carnival Triumph Monday. Sources say the emergency call went out because the small passenger was experiencing seizures and had difficulty breathing. A MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was dispatched from Air Station Houston to medevac the child, the child's mother and ship's nurse to Memorial Hermann Hospital.

The cruise ship was approximately 40 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas when the rescue occurred. Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Grow stated "It was very rewarding to be able to start a search-and-rescue career helping out a mother and her 8-month-old who really needed us at the time."

The child's condition has not yet been released. Below is footage of the rescue at sea.

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January 26, 2015

New Cruise Line Sexual Assault and Rape Reporting Law Champions Openness

New Cruise Saftey Law.jpgA new federal law passed earlier this month that requires the Department of Transportation to report crimes allegedly committed onboard a cruise ship. The new law is quite a departure from its predecessor, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (hereinafter "Act"), which only made incident data available if the alleged crime was "no longer under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Opponents of the law maintain it is not necessary, arguing that the major cruise lines began providing crime data on their respective websites in 2013. However, it is important to note that the data provided on these websites cannot be relied on as a representative figure insofar as the total number of crimes that occur aboard cruise vessels. Specifically, the major cruise lines only report incidents that meet the requirements of the Cruise Vessel and Safety Act, which limit reporting to incidents involving "homicide, suspicious death, a missing United States national, kidnapping, assault with serious bodily injury ... firing or tampering with the vessel, or theft of money or property in excess of $10,000." Thus, if a crew member stole something from a passenger not in excess of $10,000, then the cruise lines were not required to publicly disclose it. The above may be characterized as an illustration of the lobby efforts by the Cruise Lines to modify the Act in a way that only certain crimes require disclosure.

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January 25, 2015

Miami Boat Accident Sends Passenger to the Hospital

Miami law enforcement is investigating a boat accident that sent one passenger to the hospital. It appears from facts reported from various new sources that nine people -- five women and four men between the ages of 18 and 24 -- were aboard a 19 foot jet-boat when it crashed into a wood piling about 8:30 PM on the night of January 24th. 911 was called on scene by one of the passengers.

The boating accident happened in Biscayne Bay several hundred feet from Sea Isle Marina near 16th Street and North Bayshore Dive. The crash caused the passengers to be thrown inside the boat. Luckily no one was ejected. A woman passenger, however, was taken to Ryder Trauma Center for her injuries. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain, Ignatius Carroll stated, "The other eight people that are here on scene seem to be okay, but obviously they are very shaken up by what happened and they are being interviewed by FWC, who will determine the cause of this incident and how it could have been prevented."

Alcohol is suspected to be involved. The boat's operator was charged with boating under the influence after given a field sobriety test. This is another in a long string of accidents which occurred in Biscayne Bay where the operator was suspected of boating under the influence. Under Florida law, to be convicted for boating under the influence, the operator must have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.

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January 23, 2015

New Law Forces Cruise Lines to Conduct Lifesaving Drills Sooner

Cruise Life Saving Law.jpgCruise lines operating international passenger voyages are now required to conduct muster / lifeboat drills before or shortly after the voyage begins. The Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea (commonly known as SOLAS) requires such drills so that passengers are made aware of their muster station location and instructed on the proper use of life preservers. Instruction on the procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency is also provided.

The prior regulation required cruise ships to hold a lifesaving drill within twenty-four hours from the embarkation of the voyage. SOLAS was amended in reaction to the Costa Concordia disaster where thirty-two died as a result of the captain's negligence and poor lifesaving planning. One of the biggest lessons learned from this tragedy is that the passengers did not know where to go when the ship started to sink. This confusion perhaps caused loss of life. Having the muster drill before, or shortly after, the voyage begins will arm passengers with the requisite knowledge of what to do and were to go should an emergency arise while at sea.

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January 22, 2015

Americans Traveling on Foreign Cruises Reap Benefit from Athens Convention Overhaul

Athens Convention Damages.jpgMost American are unaware that international law caps damages for passengers who are hurt or die on cruises that leave from, call on and return to foreign ports. Adopted in 1974, the Athens Convention was intended to consolidate two earlier conventions addressing passenger injuries and luggage losses. Nearly every American cruise line adopts the Athens Convention for their wholly foreign cruises. For example, the below language is found in Royal Caribbean's ticket contract:

ON CRUISES WHICH NEITHER EMBARK, DISEMBARK NOR CALL AT ANY PORT IN THE UNITED STATES, CARRIER SHALL BE ENTITLED TO ANY AND ALL LIABILITY LIMITATIONS, IMMUNITIES AND RIGHTS APPLICABLE TO IT UNDER THE "ATHENS CONVENTION...

Carnival, Princess, NCL and Holland America have similar ticket provisions.

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