Meyer v. Carnival: Lera Toato Mathurin deposition / Cox

This review Lera Toato Mathurin’s depostion is part of our much larger coverage of the Michael Meyer v. Carnival Cruise Lines et al. case resulting from a catamaran propeller accident on a cruise ship shore excursion.

Lera Toato Mathurin was the Cox & Company representative on the Tango Too catamaran excursion to the Pitons the day Michael Meyer was injured.

Most of our coverage of these depositions 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.

Direct Examination by Noah Silverman for Cox

Tango Too Sail Cat, Sea Spray tours, St. Lucia

Tango Too Sail Cat, Sea Spray tours, St. Lucia

Lera Toato lives in Catries, St. Lucia and has worked for Cox & Company for 14 years as a tour guide. She insures the safety of the passengers and makes sure they have a great experience.

She was trained by Cox & Company, by the training course at the St. Lucian Tourist Board, and by on the job training (going with a more experienced tour guide). She is now one of the more experienced tour guides at Cox and provides training for some of the less experienced guides. Lera has been working catamaran tours for 14 years. She has been on over a hundred catamaran tours.

As the tours are leaving she uses the PA system to instruct them on safety, tell them life jackets are available, tell them there were be no jumping onboard, and does a life jacket fitting demonstration. She instructs passengers that are not strong swimmers to wear life jackets at the swim stop. She tells them alcohol will be served after swimming and explains where the bathrooms are. Lera also instructs them that passengers are not allowed to jump off the boat.

As an example of the crew working as a team, one time she observed a child jumping on the nets at the front of the catamaran. She asked the child to stop. The child stopped a while, but started jumping again later, then she went and talked to the parents who stopped it.

She gives another set of instructions about ten minutes before they pull into the swimming area. She repeats the instructions at least twice, three times to ensure they are aware of it. She tells them:

  • About life jackets like she did before
  • Not to jump in
  • They are only to exit at the front down the step ladder to the beach area
  • Passengers are only to enter the water after clearance has been given by the captain. No one is to go in until he gives the okay.
  • About how long they will be at the beach
  • The captain will blow the horn three times when it is time for them to get back onboard, and the captain blows it once so they know what it sounds like
  • The name of the area
  • Not to tamper with the reef areas
  • Of the freshwater hose, a shower they can use after swimming
  • Not to flush the toilets while they are anchored, because they are marine toilets (just flush waste overboard)
  • The bar will remain open, but alcohol will not be served until people get back onboard after swimming

Lera said Sea Spray has been operating catamarans for Cox as long as she has been there (14 years). She has observed Sea Spray and they follow safety procedures.

She is not aware of any passenger being injured on any other catamaran excursions. She is not aware of anybody being injured on any Cox catamaran by one of the catamaran propellers. (pg.33).

Captain Lawrence O’Neil and his crew (Martin, Wayne, and Glenn) are very experienced.

Silverman then went through the two safety / instructional briefings discussed earlier and tried to make sure each one of those points was specifically made on the voyage Meyer was on. After going through many of them individually, Silverman asked her if the instructions given that day deviated in any way from the regular instructions and Lera said, no.

Lera was at the bar with the microphone waiting for the clearance from the captain for passengers to begin deboarding when she became aware a passenger was in distress. (pg.54).

She had not given clearance to passengers to exit the vessel when she became aware a passenger was in distress. She became aware a passenger was in distress when she heard a splash, then saw the crew picking up a life jacket and running to the back. She dropped the microphone ran to the back, saw what was happening, took a first aid kit from the bar, and went to the beach area.

She heard Mr. Meyer repeatedly say, “I’m sorry” and “It was all my fault.”

Lera and the captain contacted the paramedics. They were there in 15 minutes or less. They put Mr. Meyer on a stretcher and took him in an ambulance (PGIC comment – she left out the pickup truck ride to the top of the hill to get to the ambulance.)

Michael Mayer being transferred to a pickup

Michael Mayer being transferred to a pickup

Lera went with the Meyers in the ambulance.

Soufriere police officers came to the hospital to speak with Mr. Meyer. That hospital was Soufriere Hospital. (PGIC comment – this is the first time someone clearly identified the first hospital).

Lera stayed with the Meyers through their transfer to the next hospital in Castries, then stayed there for three to four hours. She was present when they treated him and when the police interviewed him in Soufriere. Lera said most of his statement was given by his wife.

Lera knows the engines were in neutral when Mr. Meyer jumped in, because she could hear them, feel the vibrations, and they were not moving forward. She was not aware two other men had jumped in before him.

Direct Examination by Bob Oldershaw for Carnival

Sea Spray has three catamarans. Tango Too is the largest one, Tango is the midsize vessel, and Tango Mango is the smallest one. They select which one to take on an excursion based on the number of passengers anticipated that day.

Glenn is no longer working at Sea Spray. Martin, Wade, and Captain O’Neil are still there. She has never received any complaints about the crew members about any SeaSpray vessel she has worked aboard.

If she ever did receive a complaint, she would report it to her supervisor, Siobhan Beaubrun.

Lera says that in the ambulance, Mrs. Meyer said nobody said, “Don’t jump”. Lera told her she had said, “Don’t jump”, it is something she says on every excursion. Mrs. Meyer said she did not hear it.

Direct Examination by Michael Eriksen

Eriksen showed Lera some catamaran excursion tickets and asked he how many times she saw the word “Carnival” on them. She said five times, plus it mentions the name of the Carnival ship, Carnival Victory. So “Carnival” is mentioned six times on the front of the ticket. Cox is mentioned once on the front side of the ticket, and Sea Spray Cruises is not mentioned at all.

When Lera gives her safety instructions and briefings the name Sea Spray does not come up at all.

While being questioned about Meyer’s injuries at one point, Lera said she was told by the captain that the propeller had caused his injuries. (pg.100).

Lera was at the bar with the microphone and Captain Lawrence was at the starboard controls when she became aware there was a problem with a passenger in the water off the left side.

A gate near that location always has a rope over it to prevent passengers from going out that way. The crew normally opens it to drop the anchor. Martin was assigned to drop the anchor that day.

M/V Tango Too stern portal

M/V Tango Too stern portal

Lera said they were swimming in Malgretoute Bay that day (PGIC comment, Captain Lawrence said they were swimming in Soufrieres Bay, it is further back north than Malgretoute and more developed as we understand it).

Eriksen pointed out that what Lera earlier referred to as an ambulance was a pickup truck. It took him out of the beach, five minutes to the village of Soufriere. Meyer did not stay there long because his injuries were too severe, and he was taken to Castries.

Lera said the catamaran only used two swimming holes Malgretoute Bay and Anse Cochon (the Bay of Pigs). On this date, they went to Malgretoute Bay. She points to the locations on a map. (pg.129).

We created the Google Map below to show the relevant locations.

View Michael Meyer Propeller Accident: St Lucia in a larger map

Eriksen asked her if the procedures and announcements were still the same as at the time of the incident, they could just go out on one of Cox’s Catamaran Cruises to the Pitons and they would know, she said, yes. (Eriksen is setting them up for the Jaques video at trial).

Lera said Captain Lawrence does not make any announcements, but he may use the PA to get the attention of someone not close by.

Lera thinks the catamaran engines were in neutral and the propellers were not engaged when Mr. Meyer was injured.

Lera said it was dangerous to jump off, there could be rocks there, its not part of the tour. Eriksen asked her if she was telling him under oath that prior to Mr. Meyer, no passenger had ever jumped through that location while she was on board. She said, no, I am not saying that. I am saying they are not allowed to jump, they are instructed not to do it. But some people don’t pay attention, you cannot force them not to do it.

Eriksen asked her what she did if she saw a passenger about to jump, she said she would take the microphone and tell them there is no jumping. She did not see someone about to jump on the date of Mr. Meyer’s incident. She did not see the two passengers that jumped thought the same gate prior to Mr. Meyer.

Eriksen asked her if she could think of some scenario where three passengers could enter the water at this location, one after the other and not be seen, unless the crew was not paying attention. She said she did not see them herself. She was later told by the crew that two other men had jumped in earlier. Mr. Meyer was larger than the other men and made a larger splash. When asked when the crew told her that, she said it was when she went to the beach, Captain Lawrence told her then.

Eriksen asked her if she asked Captain Lawrence why he did not speak up when he saw men jumping into the water, Lera said, Captain Lawrence told her the men had jumped in, he did not tell her he saw them jump in. A crew member could have told him that. (pg.150).

Lera said her conversation with Captain Lawrence about the men jumping in the water happened on the beach about 5 minutes after the incident. He and Lera were both upset at that time. Eriksen asked Lera if Captain Lawrence told her in that same conversation that he thought Mr. Meyer’s wounds were caused by being struck by a moving propeller. She said, no he did not.

Eriksen said, you said something about that (Captain Lawrence saying Meyer had been struck by a moving propeller) this morning. Lera said, “I don’t remember.”

When people started jumping in to assist Meyer in the water, she went to the front, grabbed a first aid kit from the bar, and went off the front ladder into the water and onto the beach.

Eriksen asked Lera if she had seen a crew member open the port engine cover/hatch for any purpose near the time of Mr. Meyer’s injury. She did not see that. Then she said she did not recall if she may have seen it open just before the incident.

Eriksen asked her to assume there was more than one passenger that day that has already testified under oath that they heard an announcement saying it was permissible and allowed for passengers to leave by the front or jumping over the side. Eriksen told her to assume that testimony is in this case, are those passengers lying?

Lera said she never makes that announcement. She would never do it.

After the incident, Lera left with the ambulance (pickup truck). She next saw the crew a day or two later. (pgs.177,178).

Eriksen pointed out there were paper and pencils on the catamaran. Someone could have taken statements from the passengers before they got back to port. She said she did not know, she left.

Lera does not know if Cox or Sea Spray had passengers like Mr. Meyer sign a release.

It is now almost two years since the incident, and Lera has never seen a statement from any of the passengers about the incident.

Lera said she knows how to do first aid, CPR, and how to recognize when a person is going into shock.

A male nurse that happened to be a passenger that day assessed Mr. Meyer and tended to him. He asked the rest of them to move away and to bring him as many towels as they had.

Eriksen had Lera give the announcement she gives when they are about ten minutes from the swimming spot.

Eriksen began asking Lera when the engines were shut off and learned she thinks “neutral” and “shut off” are the same thing. (pg.211).

Eriksen asked her what is going on with the propellers when the engine is in neutral. She said the noise is still going on because it takes time to completely stop. Eriksen asked if the propellers are engaged to the engine when the engines are in neutral?, she said she did not know.

Erisken asked her how she would describe a situation when the engine is shut off like in a car, she does not have a car and has not driven before, but she did go to driving school. Eriksen asked her if there was a function on the catamaran the captain could do something to the controls and the engines would shut off, just like a car would shut off with a key. She did not know.

Eriksen asked, in that sense, were the engines shut off before Mr. Meyer got hurt?, she said yes. She knew because she could not hear the sound of the engines.

Carnival has never asked Lera for a statement about what happened that day. She has been out on many of cruises to the Pitons for Carnival customers, but has never seen a Carnival representative come by to see what the were doing for the safety of their passengers. (pg.224).

Cox & Company did ask Lera to enter a formal written statement about the incident.

Lera knows that Cox has some watercraft written safety procedures, but cannot remember a single rule that might apply to the Cruise to the Pitons. She is aware of the rules, but cannot provide a year or date that she read them.

Lera points out a lady in a photo that she was told on other days was was a trainee for bar tending. (pg.249). The lady was working for Sea Spray that day.

Eriksen asked, when was the last time the Tango Too had an operational sail, she can’t remember.

Eriksen asked, prior to this incident, did any passenger ever complain about the voyage being motored instead of under sail?, Lera said no.

Lera cannot remember one single complaint she has ever heard from a catamaran passenger against Cox since she began working for them til now.

Redirect by Noah Silverman for Cox

Lera said Mr. Meyer told the police the incident was his fault.

Lera said the pickup took Mr. Meyer up the road to an ambulance that could not get to the beach. He was then taken by ambulance to the hospital in Soufriere. The later taken by ambulance to the hospital in Castries.

Redirect by Oldershaw for Carnival

Lera expects the passengers to listen and use reasonable care when they are on the ship.

Recross-examination by Eriksen for Plaintiff

Lera does not know if the St. Lucia Coast Guard has any written regulations or not, or if any of them may have been violated that day.

Eriksen tried to get her to acknowledge that photograph # 8 showed more water between the catamaran and the beach than was shown in photograph 26 that shows Meyers on the beach (and verifies the date).

Photograph 8 showed a man in a life jacket, but Eriksen is trying to show that photo was taken on another cruise. It shows too much water to the front of the vessel.

Silverman for Cox said Lera would read the transcript for errors.

Leave a Reply