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Cruise Ship Slip-and-Falls: The Need for Good Counsel

If unsafe conditions aboard a cruise ship cause you to slip and fall—and you break your knee—should you be able to receive compensation for your future pain and suffering? If you do sue, should the cruise ship company’s lawyer be permitted to argue in court that you are only seeking this compensation because you, together with your doctor and lawyer, cooked up a get-rich-quick scheme? Should he or she be allowed to tell the jury that you brewed up the lawsuit as a scam to make money by suing the wealthy cruise ship company (in the absence of any specific evidence to suggest as much)?

These are the questions that the Florida Court of Appeals confronted in the 2013 case of Carnival Corporation v. Jimenez. The Court ultimately concluded that, because Ms. Jimenez’s lawyer had not properly objected to these unfair tactics on the part of the attorney for Carnival Cruises, there was nothing it could do to help. The law, the Court said, required Ms. Jimenez’s counsel to object to procedures at trial that he thought were unfair to his client, and he hadn’t. As a result, she was only entitled to very limited review by the Court of Appeals. Had Ms. Jimenez had better counsel—a lawyer who would have paid close attention during the trial and vociferously objected to these unfair tactics—she could have gotten real compensation for her broken knee.

An Accident on the Cruise Ship

Ms. Jimenez had just boarded her Carnival Cruise ship, which was still in the harbor. As she was walking past a buffet, she slipped and fell in an oily substance that had been left on the floor. Ms. Jimenez broke her knee and injured her hip. Since the ship was still docked, the crew members were able to take her off and bring her to Tampa General Hospital. She was treated and, over the next several weeks, her pain began to subside. Ms. Jimenez, unfortunately, did not have health insurance. When the hospital sought payment of her medical bills, her attorney sent the hospital what is known as a “letter of protection.” Under a letter of protection, the patient declares that he or she is planning to sue the person who injured him or her and that the medical bills can be paid out of any money he or she wins if the lawsuit is successful.

When Ms. Jimenez’s case finally went to trial, the lawyer for Carnival Cruises tried to make the existence of the letter of protection into a major issue. He argued that it was proof that her doctor and lawyer both had a financial interest in the outcome of the case, and that they had conspired together to get rich by suing Carnival Cruises. “I think everything was absolutely scripted,” Carnival’s lawyer told the jury during closing argument. The jury ultimately returned a verdict that was technically “in favor” of Ms. Jimenez, giving her a total of $3,750, with no compensation for future pain and suffering, probably not enough even to cover her medical expenses, and nothing to cover her legal fees.

Ms. Jimenez’s counsel sought a new trial on the grounds that Carnival’s lawyer’s use of the letter of protection had been patently unfair. The trial judge agreed, and set the verdict aside, ordering a new trial. However, Carnival Cruises’ counsel appealed that order to the Florida Court of Appeals. The Court noted that Ms. Jimenez’s “counsel did not object to defense counsel’s remark about ‘scripted’ testimony” and that “[t]here was no motion for mistrial.” Given the lack of objection, the Court found, the verdict could only be set aside “when the improper behavior is of such a nature as to reach into the validity of the trial itself to the extent that the verdict could not have been obtained but for such comments.” Ms. Jimenez, the Court ruled, could not reach this high bar. The verdict awarding her a mere pittance, it said, had to stand.

Contact an Attorney for Help with Your Case

Don’t let your meritorious case end up in this sorry state. Get counsel who will be vigilant about objecting to unfair tactics on the part of opposing counsel. The personal injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates are here to serve you today.

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