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David Schulman representative of the Estate of Casey Schulman v. Semester at Sea, et al.

We previously covered the Casey Schulman propeller accident. The 20 year-old young woman from Falls Church, Virginia was struck and killed by the propeller of a snorkel tour boat while visiting the Caribbean island of Dominica as part of a University of Virginia Semester at Sea program.

Her father, David Schulman, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, Miami Division on Thursday October 17, 2013. The suit / complaint is officially listed as:

David Schulman as Personal Representative of the Estate of Casey Schulman, deceased
v.
Institute for Shipboard Education dba Semester at Sea,
Anchorage Hotel Ltd,
Global Citizens Travel, LLC,
and Fountain-Pajot S.A., a foreign company

MV Explorer

MV Explorer
image courtesy Wikipedia

Semester at Sea uses a retired cruise ship vessel (M/V Explorer) as a floating teaching platform to take students from many U.S. universities to foreign lands.

The Lawyers

The case has just been filed, so we only have the Plaintiff attorneys at the moment. They are:

  • Robert L. Parks – The Law Offices of Robert L. Parks P.L., of Miami Florida
  • David H. Pollack – The Pollack Law Firm of Miami Florida
  • K. Chris Todd – Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd Evans & Figel PLLC of Washington D.C.

For those who may not be familiar with cruise ship cases, many cruise ship lines require that any actions (cases) against them be filed in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, Miami Division.

Attorneys often begin propeller cases by casting a broad net. In this instance, they are suing:

  • Institute for Shipboard Education – the group doing business as Semester at Sea. This organization is “sponsored” by the University of Virginia. Semester at Sea (SaS) was previously sponsored by the University of Pittsburg (Pennsylvania) from 1981 through the spring of 2006.
  • Anchorage Hotel, LTD – the hotel in Dominica associated with the snorkel tour boat. The group was to eventually come back to the hotel and spend the night.
  • Global Citizens Travel, LLC – a New York based tour operator that sells and markets tours to student groups via a website. The group targets Semester at Sea students as part of its marketing strategy. The snorkel tour shore excursion Casey Schulman and many other SaS students were on was booked through Global Citizens Travel (GCT). The organization is ran by a 24 year old Semester at Sea alumni.
  • Fountain-Pajot S.A. – the French company that manufactured the Sail Catamaran involved in this accident.

Proving Institute for Shipboard Education (Semester at Sea) Should Stand Trial

The Complaint says Semester at Sea failed to exercise reasonable care in the supervision and safety of it students, then provides some specific ways in which it failed to do so. We anticipate Semester at Sea will disagree with those statements and lay all the blame somewhere else.

Proving to a judge that Semester at Sea had enough skin in the game to stand trial may take quite a while. This is not their first rodeo. Semester at Sea have been involved in numerous accidents and fatalities over the years. SaS understands the techniques available to them to try to prevent or minimize any legal obligations to passengers or their survivors after an accident.

Semester at Sea may also say they are not a cruise ship line in the classical sense and thus this court has no jurisdiction over them.

Proving Jurisdiction Over Anchorage Hotel and Global Citizens Travel

We anticipate Anchorage Hotel will claim they have no presence in Florida and thus this court has no jurisdiction over them. Plaintiff lawyers will have to build a case for jurisdiction based on various connections they have to Florida, including customers and any travel back and forth to Florida by Anchorage or by Florida based tour guides or administrators of travel programs.

Similarly, Global Citizens Travel may claim they have no presence in Florida and Plaintiff lawyers will have to build a case for jurisdiction based on various Florida connections, including customers and any travel they have made to Florida.

Proving Jurisdiction Over Fountain-Pajot S.A.

Fountain-Pajot is a company in France that manufacturers large Sail Catamarans. They built the catamaran, The Passion 1, involved in the accident in Dominica. We anticipate they will claim the court has no jurisdiction over them, especially not in a sale of a vessel that wound up in Dominica. Plaintiff lawyers will have to build a case for jurisdiction based on yacht dealers Fountain-Pajot does business with in Florida, customers in Florida, presence at boat shows, any business trips to and from Florida by them or their representatives, etc.

Jurisdiction Summary

We are not saying Plaintiff lawyers will not be successful in proving jurisdiction over all parties involved. The complaint begins to lay out their strategy for doing so. We are only saying it will take a lot of time and effort to do so. Its a bit like trying to catch a greased pig. Every time you get a hold of one of them, they start squealing and squirming trying to get away. We think the court system is long due an overhaul that provides a more detailed clear set of criteria for making these determinations.

Fountain-Pajot is a bit different that the others and we understand some legal discussions might be required to prove jurisdiction in their situation as we are not familiar with non-US boat builders being sued very frequently in cruise ship line shore excursion tour accidents.

We are certainly not legal outcome experts, but we would anticipate no serious settlement offers from any of the parties involved until the court has ruled it has jurisdiction over that particular party.

Similarly we would not anticipate Semester at Sea making any serious settlement offers until the court rules SaS had a duty to the deceased that might have prevented or mitigated the accident and thus SaS should stand trial.

All these events (providing duty by SaS, and proving jurisdiction over all parties involved) will have to take place before the case becomes a traditional boat propeller case.


The Vessel

Anchorage Hotel in Dominica operates a few vessels, including “The Passion 1”, a large sail catamaran (they are often called Sail Cats) built by Fountaine-Pajot of France.

Anchorage Dive Center Sail Cat

Anchorage Dive Center Sailing Catamaran
involved in the Casey Schulman accident

This Tahiti Fountain-Pajot Sailing Catamaran has an overall length of 75 feet, can carry 54 people on whale watching or snorkeling tours, is powered by two 140 HP Yanmar diesel engines, has a cruise speed of 10 knots, and a maximum speed of 12 knots.

While it has sails, the sails are often just for show or short sailing jaunts. The boat is typically powered by one engine in each pontoon near the stern. The propellers are in that area as well. The vessel is somewhat of a very large pontoon boat.


The Claims Being Made

As is normal, many of the same claims are made against more than one party. In general, the claims are:

  • Semester at Sea had a duty to Casey Schulman to prevent her from participating in shore excursions and tours it knew were unsafe.
  • Semester at Sea had a duty to warn Casey Schulman that Global Citizens Travel had little or no experience in organizing college student tours or knowledge of the safeguards necessary to prevent injuries in foreign locations.
  • Anchorage Hotel had a duty to Casey Schulman to provide a safe vessel with an adequately trained and competent crew including a trained and licensed captain.
  • Anchorage Hotel failed to provide adequate vessel safety instructions prior to departure, allowed employees to serve excessive amounts of alcohol on the tour, failed to provide trained lookouts (when the vessel backed into Casey Schulman), allowed the students to swim in an unsafe area close to the unguarded propellers, operated the vessel without propeller guards, and failed to warn students of the dangers of swimming near the catamaran.
  • Global Citizens Travel had a duty to exercise reasonable care in selecting tour operators, facilities, staff, and vessels.
  • Global Citizens Travel had a duty to make sure tours were adequately staffed and supervised, including a properly trained crew and a licensed captain aboard a safe vessel.
  • Global Citizens Travel organized and sold a catamaran excursion that allowed students to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, with a crew that was not trained to supervise college students.
  • Fountaine-Pajot designed, manufactured, and sold an unreasonably dangerous vessel, The Passion 1. The propellers were not guarded, swimmers in the water behind the stern were not visible from the helm, it did not have an automatic warning system for swimmers to warn them when the engines were running and the vessel was moving, it failed to provide a warning on each pontoon showing the location of the propeller, and failed to warn passengers of these risks.

Specific Counts of the Complaint

  • Count 1 – Negligence against Semester at Sea
  • Count 2 – Negligence against Anchorage Hotel
  • Count 3 – Negligence against Global Citizens Travel
  • Count 4 – Strict Liability (design defect) against Fountain-Pajot
  • Count 5 – Strict Liability (failure to warn) against Fountain-Pajot
  • Count 6 – Negligence against Fountain-Pajot
  • Count 7 – Strict Liability (design defect) against Anchorage Hotel
  • Count 8 – Strict Liability (failure to warn) against Anchorage Hotel

How Much Are They Suing For

To file the case, the attorneys state the amount is in excess of $75,000.

Plaintiffs are suing for compensatory damages, including loss of support and services from the date of Casey Schulman’s death reduced to present value, loss of net accumulations reduced to present value, funeral expenses, other damages the Estate and survivors may be entitled to, costs, such other relief as the court deems just and proper.

Net accumulations is an estimate of the size of the estate she would have left had she led a normal life. It is calculated as net income plus pension benefits less personal expenses.

These numbers are more than a bit nebulous for a female college senior.

Casey Schulman was a smart, beautiful, well liked, young woman in her fourth year at a very selective public university (University of Virginia), living in a sorority, with the ability to fund a lengthy Semester at Sea voyage. The University of Virginia (UVA) has ranked as the number 1 or number 2 public university in the country the last 14 years by U.S. News and World Report. Casey Schulman graduated with honors from nationally recognized Jeb Stuart High School of Falls Church in 2009. Casey had tremendous potential, but her life was cut short before we even begin to see trajectory of her financial life.

We are not sure how the financial guys would try to estimate some of these numbers. They might be able to turn to some of her previous peers (women who went to school there, had similar experiences, and came from similar families several years ago). Plus at least in yesterday’s society, many women stayed at home while their husbands provided for the family. That raises questions as to how to count her share of any net accumulations of the family (50%? or some other percentage?).

She might have become the wife in a upper class family and stayed at home to be involved in many society and charitable projects while not creating wealth that was strictly her own. She may have become part of a two professional family or been the family breadwinner or a single professional, or led some other life.

The Defense always argues the other direction. They will estimate her potential based on that of an average American woman.

But, placing value on UVA students is not without precedent. A handful of UVA female students have died unexpectedly in recent years. Among them, the recent 31 August 2013 death of Shelly Goldsmith from a “molly” overdose from a suspected bad batch at a D.C.club. Her death may work its way into some kind a valuation suit in the future. The most relevant UVA death may be that of Yeardley Love, the female lacross player.

Learning Financial Numbers From the Murder of Yeardley Love?

Yeardly Love played women’s lacross for University of Virginia (UVA). She was found murdered 3 May 2010 just weeks before her graduation. Her mother, Sharon Love, filed a $29.4 million suit against George Huguely V (UVA men’s lacross player convicted of second degree murder) for compensatory damages plus a million in punitive damages in the Circuit Court of Charlottesville Virginia. She also filed a $29.45 million suit against a pool including the men’s lacross head coach, men’s lacross associate head coach, and UVA’s director of athletics. The coaches suit was filed in Circuit Court of Louisa in Virginia under her mother’s name. Some suggest the second suit was filed in a bordering county to get slightly away from University supporters.

ABC covers some of the dollars in he Yeardley suit at Yeardley Love’s Mom Sues Killed George Huguely for $30M.

Lawyers on both sides of these trials might want to visit with their counterpart on the other trial about their plans for estimating the potential financial income and “net accumulations” for these two young women of similar ages nearing graduation at the University of Virginia.

As to these matters moving pretty slowly, it looks like the Huguely trial resulting from Yeardley Love’s mother’s wrongful death suit is currently scheduled to begin September 29, 2014. Plus he is still appealing his murder conviction.

It will be interesting to see how both sides address some of the financial issues in both cases (Yeardley and Schulman).

If the Schulman case goes to a jury, they will be the one deciding some of these numbers.


Summary

While this looks like an interesting case, it could be a long time before it actually gets around to considering propeller related issues. International cases don’t move very fast and with numerous jurisdictional issues, as well as Semester at Sea probably claiming they have no liability, we expect it to go on quite a while before it gets into propeller safety issues.

Reference Materials

Below are links to some of our previous coverage of this accident and related issues, along with links to the primary players, and the complaint.


General Comments on Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Tour Accident Suits

Again for those not familiar with cruise ship shore excursion tour lawsuits, cruise ship lines (in this case, Semester at Sea) typically claim they had no responsibility for the accident (even if they marketed, sold, and delivered tickets for the tour), then the shore tour organizations involved claim the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida Miami Division has no jurisdiction over them. For a long time, the legal wrangling focuses on trying to prove the cruise ship line should at least be tried for the case (no letting them out on summary judgement) AND trying to prove all the smaller operations have sufficient presence / business activity in Florida for the court to have jurisdiction over them.

Having to prove some potential liability by the cruise ship line AND jurisdiction over the smaller shore excursion players is a very significant barrier in these cases. Good attorneys usually get it done, but it cost a lot of time and money that would otherwise being going to the injured party or their survivors if the case is eventually won.

We have long thought the U.S. Government Judicial Branch should review the existing laws and precedents for cruise ship shore excursion tour accidents (there are a lot of shore excursion tour accidents) and set some consistent, detailed rules for the cases. Such as:

  • If you are the Plaintiff, these are exactly the criteria you have to prove for the cruise line to stand trial for an accident involving a shore excursion passenger.
  • If you are the cruise line Defendant, these are exactly the criteria you have to prove for your cruise line to be excused from the case.
  • If you are a shore excursion tour operation Defendant outside the U.S., these are exactly the criteria you need to prove to be excused because this court has no jurisdiction over you.
  • If you are the Plaintiff, these are exactly the criteria you have to prove to prove jurisdiction over the smaller shore excursion players.

The courts do currently have a criteria, but it is more than a little nebulous. The judge weighs a bunch of different evidence. We are suggesting changing that to quickly split the flow of cases into 3 paths. One is quickly ruled as the court having jurisdiction over them, one is quickly ruled as the court not having jurisdiction over them, on the group in the middle is litigated to determine jurisdiction.

We are talking about a specific list of criteria like was the cruise line name written on the ticket?, where was it sold from?, how was it delivered?, who delivered it?, where was it delivered?, when was it delivered?, is a portion of excursion ticket sales returned to the cruise line?, has the excursion tour operation sent representatives to Florida?, what portion of the excursion tour traffic comes from cruise ships?, what portion of excursion tour traffic comes from or through Florida?, etc.

We suspect the lists described above or a flow chart using detailed criteria as described above could be used to quickly decide jurisdiction over shore excursion operations and if the cruise line might owe a duty to the passenger in many cases. Cases in the gray area between the two sets of criteria could be litigated just like they currently are.

These same issues are batted around case after case and argued over and over again. The cruise ship lines just use it as an entry barrier to help them ward off cases. While we agree the Plaintiff should prove a duty is owed by the cruise line to the passenger in this instance AND prove jurisdiction over the shore excursion players. We note both these proofs could be quickly accomplished in many instances with some more detailed guidelines from the Judicial Department.

We also realize that detailed guidelines could create a moving target, i.e. the cruise lines and shore excursion players would have an incentive to change some policies, printed materials,and web sites to try to meet the new list of criteria for their exclusion from the trial v. trying to make things safer.


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Comments

  1. At aproximately 11:45am on the day cassey was killed, I heard rhona royer- armour shouting andrew armours name and moments later i saw andrew armour driving his wife’s (rhona royer-armour) vehicle swiftly away from their home.
    Since the tour started at ~9 am and casey was killed at ~2pm:
    How could andrew armour have been the authorised captain?
    Was andrew armour under the influence of drugs and or alcohol?
    Why has the police, the magistrate and the dpp been giving andrew Armour special treatment?
    what happened to the toxicollogy/drug tests done on andrew armour?

    Did andrew armour hold any qualifications or attend any training as a boat captain?
    Who was the captain at the start of the tour?
    Was andrew armour interfering with the vessel?
    was andrew armour an employee of anchorage hotel at the time?
    Why isnt andrew armour being sued?

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