The cruise injury lawyers of Brais Brais & Rusak recently obtained sanctions against Celebrity Cruises for “losing” critical CCTV surveillance video depicting their client’s trip and fall accident on board the cruise ship Century. CCTV video cameras are prevalent aboard cruise ships. In fact, modern cruise liners have hundreds of cameras recording the actions of the passengers and crew. Often times, however, when the video is requested for litigation, the cruise lines claim no video exists or it was recorded over. Such was the situation in the instant case.
Brais Brais & Rusak’s client allged she tripped and fell over a raised piece of metal at the edge of a step. CCTV cameras were in place in the area and took video footage of the incident. On two occasions before filing the lawsuit Brais Brais & Rusak wrote letters to the cruise line demanding the CCTV video depicting the fall as well as the step for the hour before the accident be preserved. Since Celebrity Cruise was on notice the video is important to a potential litigation, it had the legal duty to preserve this evidence. Most interesting in this case, the ship’s safety officer alleges he reviewed the video and claimed it shows the passenger simply missed the step. Despite reviewing this key piece of evidence, the safety officer took no reasonable action to preserve the video and it lost before the passenger could preview the tape. Consequently there was no way to rebut what the safety officer claimed was on the video.
Brais Brais & Rusak filed a motion arguing Celebrity Cruises’ actions of losing the video offend the fundamental fairness of the judicial system and the cruise line should not benefit for its failure to preserve critical evidence. The cruise line fought this motion suggesting in order to obtain sanctions the passenger must prove the CCTV video’s destruction was deliberate. In other words, the Celebrity argued the wronged passenger needs to find a whistle blower within the cruise line to obtain sanctions. Such a standard would be nearly impossible to achieve. Brais Brais & Rusak argued the cruise line need only be reckless in its failure to preserve the video to be subjected to evidence spoliation sanctions. At the hearing on the motion, the Court agreed with Brais Brais & Rusak’s legal analysis and also agreed the safety officer’s cavalier attitude towards preserving the video amounted to recklessness. In sanctioning Celebrity Cruises, the Court held none of the cruise line’s witnesses could testify what the CCTV video shows at the trial.
Brais Brais & Rusak has been at the forefront of forcing cruise lines to produce CCTV video of shipboard accidents. In 2011, the firm obtained the first ever order compelling a cruise line to produce CCTV video of an accident before the passenger sat for deposition.