Michael Meyer v. Carnival Cruise Lines, et al.
On March 10, 2011 Michael Meyer, about age 65 at time of the accident, and his wife (Luz Hilda Meyer) were on a cruise at St. Lucia, a Caribbean island. They were cruising on the Carnival cruise ship, the M/V Carnival Victory. On this day, they went on a St. Lucia shore excursion trip Michael had booked earlier. During the shore excursion trip Michael was severely injured by a catamaran boat propeller.
The complaint was filed 27 January 2012. The lawsuit / legal case was settled in September 2013.
We provide extensive coverage of this accident, case, and resulting trial in a series of posts:
- Details of the accident – Michael Mayer Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Propeller Accident.
- This post summarizing the legal case
- Michael Myer deposition review – injured party
- Jack Cardillo deposition review – passenger
- Siobhan O’Grady deposition review – passenger
- Jeffrey Navotny deposition review – passenger
- Ed Wieten deposition review – passenger
- Siobhan Beaubrun deposition review – Cox supervisor. This review is in two parts.
- Lera Toato Mathurin depositon review – Cox tour guid
- Captain Lawrence O’Neil deposition review- Sea Spray catamaran Captain
- Randall Jaques affidavit and deposition review – Plaintiff expert, inspected excursion for Plaintiff
- Dr. Scott Tannebaum physiatric review of Meyer for the Defense
- Amilicar Cascais deposition review – Carnival
- Is Carnival in or out?
Most of our coverage of the trial comes from legal documents in PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). We encourage those who wish to study the case more in depth to establish a PACER account and view the original records. Fees are typically about a dime a page.
Why We Chose to Cover The Meyer v. Carnival Case in Depth
The accident resulted in a lawsuit that settled in September 2013. While Michael Meyer’s accident and resulting trial are interesting in and of themselves, we decided to post this coverage in part because of many similarities between this accident and legal case and the December 2012 Dominica accident of Casey Schulman and the legal case filed this month (October 2013) by her father representing her estate.
The Schulman case has another similarity besides just being a Caribbean shore excursion trip propeller accident, her accident also involved a large sail catamaran.
Many are not familiar with the typical procedures surrounding cruise ship legal cases. With the Schulman case just beginning to start working its way though the legal system, we thought the Meyer case would be an opportunity to help our readers become better understand the process about to unfold.
Plus it parallels our efforts to increase awareness of propeller injury risks to international tourists in water tourism areas of less developed countries.
In addition, we suspect cases involving large sail catamarans on excursions are far from over. We previously identified about nine similar propeller accidents, some of which resulted in injuries to more than one person. Most or all of these accidents resulted in court cases. Large sail cat excursions have also been involved in demasting accidents (mast breaks, falls, and injures those on board), electrical shock accidents (mast strikes a hot electrical wire), and reef strikes. The Meyer accident / case is highly likely to be followed by other similar accidents and cases.
- Carnival Cruise Lines – the cruise ship line
- Cox and Company – the shore excursion tour operator, referred to as Cox
- Sailaway Tours – a shore excursion tour subcontractor referred to as Sailaway
- Seaspray Cruises Ltd – also known as Seaspray Tours, a shore excursion tour subcontractor referred to as Seaspray or Sea Spray
- Michael Meyer, about 65 at time of the accident, the injured party
Michael Meyer’s Cruise
The cruise began in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a U.S. Territory, was to go to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Antigua, but would not be stopping in all those ports. The cruise would then return to and end at San Juan.
Plaintiff submitted the U.S. Coast Guard propeller safety brochure, “Beware of Boat Propellers … A Hidden Danger” that we reviewed and several of our comments were included in before it was published by USCG.
Mechanics of the Shore Excursion Firms
Carnival contracted with Cox & Company to provide the “Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons”.
Cox subcontracted the “Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons” to Seaspray / Sea Spray without receiving Carnival’s permission to do so. SeaSpray owned the catamaran. Cox had an employee on board to supervise (basically to act as a tour guide). SeaSpray did not have the type or amount of insurance required by Carnival. (PACER document 169 pg.10).
Carnival was not aware SeaSpray was involved in the excursion. (PACER document 169 pgs.9-10).
Minimizing Their Potential Losses
Part of the job of defense attorneys is to minimize any potential losses. One of the ways they do that is trying to remove things from the table. For example, in this case Michael Meyer had some back problems prior to his propeller injuries and they seemed worse after his injuries. The defense tried to remove back injuries from the table claiming the propeller accident had no effect on them because he was not struck in the back. Similarly, they tried to remove any intensification of his diabetic issues and any of his kidney problems from the discussion.
Defense attorney effort to remove things from the table became humorous in the deposition of Michael Meyer. Michael admitted he never saw the propellers, he was just drawn into them and struck by them. The defense kept asking him if he had heard the engine before he jumped off. He repeatedly said no. They asked him if he had walked to the very back of the vessel and looked down, he said no. They asked him if he know how many propellers there were, he did not. They asked him how he know some other part of the vessel did not cause his injuries, he said he felt something rotating and chopping his legs.
They said, So you don’t even know if the propellers had anything to do with his accident? He said, he was sure it was the propellers because there was nothing else there.
Once again, they asked him “How do you know, what else was under the boat?” and he responded, “There were no sharks.”
Then they start asking him if he ever saw the propellers moving. He said no, but he could hear them from under the water.
They asked him how he knew it was the propellers and not just the engine, Michael responded, “Well, if it was the engine, if the engine was making noise, it wouldn’t chop my legs up.”
Then they asked him how he knew it was not the rudder or some other portion of the boat that was moving, he said he had no idea.
Then they finally relented and went on to another topic. It seems like the extensive, repetitive questions may have ended up hurting them more than helping them. Michael’s “no sharks” response and his engine noise wouldn’t chop my legs up response were pretty classic.).
Another way the Defense try to minimize potential losses is to keep damaging materials out of the courtroom by claiming they are not really needed or would prejudice the jury. For example, they tried to block photos and videos of Michael’s injuries for being too emotional and prejudicing the jury.
As with many cruise lines, Carnival has a clause printed on its tickets stating any legal matters must be litigated in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida in Miami.
Carnival’s operating agreement with the shore excursion firms says the shore excursion firms consent to personal jurisdiction in the Southern District of Florida in any lawsuit Carnival is in arising from the shore excursion or the terms of their agreement.
However, Carnival knows the shore firms are always represented by the same insurance company as Carnival and are often represented by the same lawyers, will move for dismissal claiming U.S. District Court of Southern Florida has no jurisdiction over them. (PACER document 169 pg 9).
Carnival’s shore excursion program is believed to be their leading source of on-board revenue ahead of gambling and beverage sales. Meyer’s complaint say it is believed to generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year for Carnival. Cruise lines often keep up to half of the ticket sales.
Cox & Company was required by Carnival to carry a certain amount of insurance from an insurer with a high rating. No insurance companies in St. Lucia achieved that rating, so Cox purchased insurance in the U.S. through a broker in St. Lucia. However, Cox subcontracted the Piton tour to Sea Spray which carried less insurance than Carnival required, and did so through a St. Lucia insurance firm that did not achieve the high rating required by Carnival.
Court documents include a 12 October 2011 letter from United Insurance Company Limited of St. Lucia to Michael Eriksen (representing Meyer) regarding the March 10, 2011 incident. In the letter, United Insurance says they investigated the incident and found Mr. Meyer jumped overboard without the consent of the vessel staff and after being instructed not to enter the water at that time. Upon entering the water, his legs were injured when they contacted the propeller. Meyer’s injury was due to his own negligent actions and as such, United will be unable to advise the tour operators of any legal liability they incurred resulting from this incident.
Posturing During the Trial
Meyer’s attorney moved for Partial Summary Judgement against Carnival, That means both sides agree on the basic facts, we just want a ruling on a point of law that Carnival owed a duty (maritime obligation of care) to Meyer on the “Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons”. That duty arose from the contract of carriage (selling him the ticket, delivering the ticket, collecting the funds, printing “Carnival” on the ticket, etc.). And that duty could not be delegated. Any negligence by those delegated to perform the obligations (contractors running the tour) is imputed to Carnival and cannot be disclaimed by them.
Carnival said the motion for Partial Summary Judgement should be denied because it is an attempt to circumvent a well established rule for not imposing liability on a ship owner when an independent contractor was negligent. They also say the owed no duty to Michael Meyer because Carnival did not own or operate the excursion. Carnival cited a legal case, Henderson v. Carnival Corp. tried in the Southern District of Florida in 2000. A passenger was injured on a catamaran shore excursion in St. Lucia when the vessel hit a coral reef. The court found Carnival’s disclaimer on the ticket was enforceable and Carnival was not liable because the excursion was owned and operated by independent contractors. (PACER Document 184 pg.12).
Cox moved to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction.
Plaintiff motioned the court to force Carnival to produce certain documents they previously listed as privileged. Meyer’s attorney cites a Dutch policeman that saw a crew member rush to a rear port engine compartment, open it, and yell, “Oh, my God, stop the engines” at the time of the incident. In addition, Plaintiff attorney received a letter from a representative of the catamaran owner (their insurance company) confirming that Meyer’s injuries resulted from a propeller strike. Plaintiff attorney is now fearful the Defense may be trying to claim the engines were off at that time, and that Meyer was cut by a barnacle. Plaintiff has previously requested all documents and communications generated during that cruise.
Cox moved to prevent showing any photos or videos of Mr. Meyer’s injuries because they might prejudice the jury. Interestingly, Cox moved to exclude any reference to currents on that date (in the depositions they asked several witnesses if they had any information on currents, water conditions, temperatures on that date, now they want to keep similar data out).
A large omnibus order from the court dated 6 September 2013 ruled on many separate motions by both sides. Photos of Meyer’s injuries will be allowed, but not permitted in great number or to excessive volume. A separate motion by Cox to prevent Plaintiff from introducing post accident photos and videos of Meyer’s injuries was granted (DE 295). It sounds like they may be allowing those taken at the time of the incident, but not those taken later.
The Michael Meyer v. Carnival Cruise Lines, et al. Trial
The trial began on Tuesday 10 September 2013.
Day 1 of Trial: Tuesday 10 Sept – Jack Cardillo (a passenger) and Ed Wieten (a passenger) testified.
Day 2: Wednesday 11 Sept – Ed Wieten (a passenger) and Lera Mathruin (Cox tour guide) testified.
Day 3: Thursday 12 Sept – Siobhan Beaubrun (Cox supervisor) testified.
Day 4: Friday 13 Sept – Amilicar Cascais (Carnival) testified.
Monday 16 September 2013, both parties informed the court they had reached a settlement.
We are left to guess that the first week’s testimony did not go well for the defense. Actual transcripts will be available on PACER in late December 2013 and early January 2014.