Following a work-related injury aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, a former employee successfully sued the company for negligence, unseaworthiness, failure to provide maintenance and cure, failure to treat, retaliatory discharge and breach of contract. She won $20.3 million in a jury verdict in the 11th Judicial Circuit court in Miami-Dade County. It’s likely Royal Caribbean will appeal the damage award, but the case is noteworthy not just for the amount of compensation but for the fact that this was an employee who successfully sued a former employer for work-related injuries.
The injury in question occurred while the vessel was in international waters (Spain’s, specifically). Plaintiff is a citizen of New Zealand. Royal Caribbean, though, is a U.S. corporation with headquarters based in Florida, so the 11th Circuit had jurisdiction. Normally in Florida worker injury cases, any employee would be required to pursue the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation, as outlined by F.S. 440.01-440.60. This exclusive remedy is part of the “grand bargain” between employers and workers. Employees injured in the course and scope of employment don’t need to prove the employer was negligent to obtain no-fault benefits for medical expenses, a portion of lost wages (and some others), but in turn they cannot sue their employer for negligence. They also aren’t entitled to pursue damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish or loss of consortium.
So what makes this case different? It happened on a boat. More specifically, the incident falls under The Jones Act. Among other things, The Jones Act allows sailors and other crew members the right to seek damages from the crew, captain or ship owner in the event of injury. Employees of cruise lines injured while the ship is at sea may not be subject to the same workers’ compensation laws as those who are injured on land. Continue reading →