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Miami-Dade County

This was a case brought under the federal Jones Act against the defendant cruise line. The plaintiff seaman alleged that the defendant permitted a dangerous, slippery condition in the ship’s engine room causing him to slip and fall. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant failed to provide prompt, appropriate medical attention. The defendant denied that the plaintiff was caused to slip and fall as a result of a dangerous condition on the ship and maintained that he was transported to a hospital in Florida as soon as possible.

The plaintiff was 25 years old and had been working as an engine cadet aboard the defendant’s cruise ship for seven weeks prior to the accident on February 13, ________. The plaintiff was conducting routine monitoring of engine room systems when he claimed that he slipped and fell on oil residue which had accumulated on a metal "diamond plate" step. This step was located near an area containing 26 drums of oil and lubricants.

The plaintiff’s liability experts testified that the defendant knew or should have known that oil spills and drips would occur and that oil residue would be transferred by crew members who regularly walked through the oil storage area. The plaintiff’s experts opined that reasonable care required adequate fall safety protection for this hazard. The plaintiff alleged that reasonable p 7 3 care also required the defendant to install any one of several available methods to prevent or control the oil hazard, including the use of expandable deck grating, non-skid paint, adhesive strips, or oil absorbing pads or mats.

The plaintiff struck the back of his head when he fell, but did not lose consciousness and was not bleeding. The plaintiff completed his work shift without reporting the incident. There were no witnesses to the fall or to the alleged accumulation of oil residue. The plaintiff testified that he only noticed the oil residue after the fall.

Approximately 90 minutes after the fall, the plaintiff claimed that he began experiencing severe headaches and dizziness in his cabin whereupon he summoned medical help. The medical crew found the plaintiff as he was lapsing into a coma. One responding crew member testified that he had elicited a history from the plaintiff that the plaintiff had not fallen nor struck his head.

The ship’s medical crew placed the plaintiff on a ventilator and immediately requested a helicopter evacuation for an initial diagnosis of cerebral hemorrhage. The ship was en-route from Florida to Mexico and was already beyond the range of U.S. Coast Guard helicopters. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was negligent in failing to divert the vessel back towards Florida to effectuate a helicopter evacuation. The defense contended that the Coast Guard has an unwritten policy against helicopter evacuation for patients on ventilators due to logistical and safety reasons.

The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant negligently failed to contact Cuban authorities for permission to bring the plaintiff to the nearest Cuban port for emergency air evacuation to a neurosurgical facility in Havana or Florida. The defendant countered that U.S. law prevented it from entering Cuban ports and that there would have been too much confusion and delay in dealing with various Cuban government agencies to attempt the plaintiff’s medivac through Cuba.

The defendant’s ship proceeded at full speed and arrived in Mexico at 3:00 a.m., some nine hours after the plaintiff lapsed into a coma and five hours before the ship’s scheduled arrival.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in failing to have an air ambulance jet ready and waiting in Mexico at 3:00 a.m. when the vessel arrived. Instead, the plaintiff claimed that he suffered another eight-hour delay at a Mexican clinic. The plaintiff’s medical experts testified that the defendant knew or should have known that there were no neurosurgeons or neurosurgical facilities available to the plaintiff in Mexico and that time was of the essence because of the risk of permanent brain damage associated with prolonged increased intercranial pressure.

The defendant argued that the Mexican airport was closed at night and did not open until 8:00 a.m. However, the plaintiff countered that another Mexican airport was available nearby and was operational 24 hours a day.

Upon arrival in Florida, the plaintiff underwent a ventriculotomy and a subsequent craniectomy to remove the subdural hematoma. The plaintiff was in a coma for more than five weeks and was hospitalized for seven weeks. He underwent in-patient as well as p 7 3 out-patient rehabilitation. The plaintiff made a remarkable recovery and regained his ability to speak and walk. The plaintiff claimed that he has been left with a slight, permanent impairment to his balance and fine motor skills.

The defendant contended that the plaintiff suffered a spontaneous hemorrhage and then fell in the engine room resulting in the subdural hematoma.

The case settled for $3 million shortly before trial was scheduled to begin.

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