The Source for Maritime Legal Information

Injured-Jones-Act-Seaman-LawsuitWhen bringing a lawsuit dealing with an injured Jones Act seaman claim, much thought must be given to what court system, federal or state, the lawsuit should be filed and whether it is preferable to have a judge or jury decide the facts of the case. Maritime law affords injured seaman several options each of which has its pros and cons. In the case of Bell v. Westbank Fishing LLC, the decision was made to file the seaman’s injury claim in federal court without asking for a jury. Once filed in the federal court, Westbank, the defendant employer, filed formal demand seeking a jury, not the federal judge, decide the facts of the case, if it was liable for the accident, and if so, how much compensation the injured seaman is entitled to receive.

The Injured Seaman Has the Right to Demand a Jury Trial

The injured seaman sought to strike his employer’s jury demand arguing his employer has no legal right to a jury trial because of the way the compliant invoked the federal court’s jurisdiction. The complaint filed by the seaman indicated that the court had jurisdiction by what is known as a federal question. Federal courts have jurisdiction to decide claim brought under a federal statute. The Jones Act, which provides injured seamen a negligence claim against their employers, is a federal statute. The complaint was silent as to any other basis of federal jurisdiction. The employer argued that when jurisdiction is based upon the Jones Act, both the injured seaman and the employer have a right to demand a jury. The employer also argued that it has a Constitutional right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

Cruise-Arbitration-Agreement-300x200According to court records, Michelle Haasbroek was employed by Steiner Transocean Limited and worked as a spa facialist on board the M/S Crown Princess, a vessel owned and operated by Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd.  Ms. Haasbroek alleges in court filings that she was raped by Eddie Yamile Santa Cruiz Reyes (“Reyes”), a cruise line employee, while off duty in a crewmember residential cabin.  As a result of the rape, Ms. Haasbroek became pregnant and gave birth to a child.

Ms. Haasbroek signed an employment agreement with Steiner which provided that her duties were “to perform services in the company’s spa, salon or fitness facility on the vessel.”  Pursuant to the employment agreement.  Ms. Haasbroek agreed to resolve any and all disputes by final and binding arbitration in Nassau, The Bahamas.

Per court filings, Ms. Haasbroek met Reyes at the church aboard the vessel and she considered him strictly a platonic friend.  On the day of the incident, Ms. Haasbroek went to Reyes’ cabin to pick up his computer so she could bring it ashore for him to be repaired and he assaulted and raped her.

Image courtesy of Daily NewsAnthony J. Jarab, 24, resident of Niceville, Texas died early Wednesday when the boat he was a passenger of crashed into a channel marker in Choctawhatchee Bay in Okaloosa County, Florida.  Per a preliminary report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the vessel involved in the accident was a 22-foot Mako center console fishing boat that was being operated by Jackie C. Mott, 34, of Valparaiso.  Two other women were also on the boat, Madison R. William, 18 of Niceville, Texas and Amber Doolan, 32 of Dripping Springs, Texas.

At approximately 12:36 A.M. the boat was heading into Choctawhatchee Bay when Mott started to accelerate.  Per the report, she yelled at the two occupants seated on the bow to come off the bow and shortly after that the vessel struck a large channel marker.  Jarab was one of the individuals seated on bow and due to the impact he was thrown onto the deck near the center console. Jarab and the two injured women were transferred by emergency personnel to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.  The two women were treated and released.  Jarab, however, died from his injuries at the medical center.  We extend Jarab’s family and loved ones our deepest sympathies.

This accident is the second fatal boating accident in Choctawhatchee Bay this year. In June, Sarah Flanagan, 19, a Texas A&M chemical engineering student was killed in a boating accident when the personal watercraft she was operating collided with a 30-foot Grady-White boat.

Explorer-of-the-Seas-Passenger-Medevac-300x179A 68-year-old man traveling on board the Explorer of the Seas is reported to have fallen down a flight of stairs on Tuesday sustaining serious injuries including rib injuries.  Per reports, the ship’s captain contacted the U.S. Coast Guard command center in Juneau and a flight doctor recommended the medevac.  A Jayhawk helicopter was sent out and the cruise ship passenger was safely hoisted up and then taken to a medical facility on land in Sitka, Alaska.

The Explorer of the Seas is operated by Royal Caribbean and at the time of the incident, it was on a week-long Alaska voyage departing from its homeport in Seattle on July 7 and scheduled to return on July 14.

The condition of the passenger is unknown at this time.

Royal-Carribean-Passenger-Fall-Accident-300x200A Miami Federal Judge has ruled that a Royal Caribbean cruise passenger injury case can proceed to a jury.  This case involves a fall in the Oasis of the Seas multipurpose auditorium.   The passenger was participating in a Game Show organized by the cruise line.  At one point, he was invited onto the stage.  While making his way to the stage, the passenger fell claiming that he was not able to discern the twelve plus inch drop from the seating area to the stage floor.  From this incident, the passenger filed a lawsuit in Federal Court alleging negligence and negligence design.

Royal Caribbean’s Motion for Summary Judgment

In order to prevail against a cruise line, the injured passenger must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was an unreasonable dangerous condition that caused the accident.  The injured passenger must also prove that the cruise line knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.    Royal Caribbean argued that the step was not dangerous as a matter of law, that it did not have a duty to warn of the step and that it was not involved in the design of the step.   Royal Caribbean filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the passenger’s injury case.

Florida-Jet-Ski-Accident-Henry-Wise-300x193One man is missing from Florida Jet Ski accident which occurred on July Fourth. Henry Wise and Gavin Primm of Alabama were riding on a jet ski which collided with a boat near the Highland View Boat Ramp. The ramp is located near Saint Joseph’s Bay. Primm was pulled out of the water and taken to Bay Medical Center Hospital wherein he was initially listed in critical condition on but since been upgraded to stable. Wise was never located. The Coast Guard stated that his life vest was cut off by the boat’s propeller. Though the Coast Guard suspended its search, other agencies are still looking for Wise. The boat involved in the collision was operated by 19-year-old Robert Bratkinewiez also from Alabama. As of the date of this post, no charges have been filed against anyone involved in the Jet Ski accident. This is the second Florida jet ski accident involving a collision within recent weeks.

jetskichannelmarker-300x203A 19-year-old young woman, identified as Sarah Flanagan of League City, Texas was killed when the personal watercraft she was operating on Choctawhatchee Bay was struck by a 30-foot boat operated by 76-year-old Johnny Pope of Shalimar, Florida.

Per news reports, Flanagan was visiting Destin, Florida from Texas and had rented the personal watercraft she was operating.  At the time the accident occurred, she was riding with a group of people.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s initial report, the two vessels collided at a 90-degree angle and upon impact, Flanagan was thrown from the watercraft. A person accompanying Flanagan jumped in the water, pulled her onto his personal watercraft and took her to a nearby marina where he met EMS.  Flanagan suffered extensive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.  At this time the report does not indicate who was at fault.  Per FWC, there were no signs of impairment in either operator.

Picture by WPTV
The Florida Fish and Wild Life Commission are investigating the death of a male diver that occurred Tuesday early afternoon in North Palm Beach.  Per reports, Luis Alberto Gorgonio-Ixba was working on a 164-foot Westport yacht docked at Old Port Cove Marina cleaning the vessel’s hull when a forward thruster was turned on pulling him face-first when the propellers were engaged. Details of the accident are not yet known and investigators are in the process of gathering witnesses statements.  At this time, Mr. Gorgonio-Ixba’s death has been ruled an accident but the investigation is still underway.

According to an anonymous caller who contacted the Palm Beach Post, she saw Coast Guard boats and other emergency workers rushing to the scene.  Then a man dove into the water and came up a few minutes later yelling”I’ve got him, I’ve got him.”

Mr. Gorgonio-Ixba was a resident of West Palm Beach and was originally from Mexico.  He is survived by two young daughters.  We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gorgonio-Ixba’s family and loved ones.

Cruise-Trip-and-Fall-Injury-300x214The Southern District of Florida has ruled that a cruise passenger trip and fall accident case can proceed to trial over a motion filed by Celebrity Cruises to dismiss the case.  In this case, a passenger aboard the Celebrity Summit was walking towards the front of the ship through the Rendezvous Lounge after the mandatory muster drill.  While passenger turned the corner to exit the lounge, he tripped and fell to the floor.  The passenger claimed that the base of a small table caused his fall.  The trip and fall accident resulted in a shoulder injury.

The Lawsuit

The passenger filed a lawsuit in the Miami division of the Southern District of Florida alleging the table was negligently designed, Celebrity created a hazardous condition by removing chairs from the table thereby exposing the pertruding table base in close proximity to the walkway and Celebrity failed to warn him of the hidden danger.  Celebrity filed a motion for summary judgment seeking the federal court to dismiss the case arguing that the cruise line did not design the table, the cruise line did not have notice of the alleged hazardous condition, the alleged hazardous condition was open and obvious, and the alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of the cruise passenger’s trip and fall accident.  In a well written order, the court found that while the passenger did not present evidence to establish a claim for negligent design, he did present enough evidence for his personal injury case to proceed to trial on the other claims.

FindIsablla-300x300The FBI and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating the disappearance of a 41-year-old Florida woman 100 km off Key West. Isabella Hellman and her husband, Lewis Bennett, married in February and departed on a Caribbean vacation on their 37-foot catamaran with planned stops in St. Maarten and Cuba as part of a belated honeymoon.

According to Bennett, the couple left Cuba at about 5:30 p.m. on May 14 and were 60 miles off the Florida Keys when their boat struck an unknown object and began taking water. Bennett claims he was asleep while his wife was on watch and he was awakened by a collision at approximately 1:00 a.m. Per Bennett, Hellman was nowhere to be found leaving him no choice but to jump onto a lifeboat and call for help. The Coast Guard briefly inspected the boat and searched for Hellman for three days with no luck. Earlier this week, the Coast Guard reported that they lost track of the boat even though they had attached a beacon to it to not lose track of it.

Per reports, Hellman and Bennett often argued about the raising of their nine-month old daughter, Emelia, and about moving to Australia, which Bennett insisted upon but Hellman refused.