For decades, sunny South Florida has attracted visitors from around the globe with its blue skies, sun drenched beaches and alluring climate. For many travelers, the Sunshine State also serves as a launching point for vacations along the high seas. As a result of its status as a cruise ship hub, maritime law is often developed in the Florida judicial system.

In a recent decision, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida took on the question of what types of damages are available to a person who is injured at sea. In Lobegeiger v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., the Court ruled that a woman who lost part of a finger in an accident aboard a cruise ship could sue the cruise line operating the ship not only for monetary damages, but also for non-monetary damages like pain and suffering and emotional distress as well as punitive damages.

Plaintiff Elise Lobegeiger traveled with her mother aboard the cruise ship Celebrity Mercury during the “12-Night Ultimate Alaska Cruise” from May 5 to May 17, 2010. While at sea, she was injured when the adjustable back of a deck lounge chair in which she was sitting crashed down on her left hand, severing her index finger. Plaintiff was treated by an onboard physician, Dr. Laubscher, who told her that it would be impossible to reattach the severed portion of her finger and as a result did not put it on ice. When the boat docked in Juneau, Alaska, Plaintiff was treated by an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Schwarting, who reattached the finger. She returned to the ship, where Dr. Laubscher removed the bandages on the finger, despite Dr. Schwarting’s strict instructions that the finger remained bandaged for five days. Plaintiff’s finger fell off three months later and could not be reattached.

Plaintiff sued the cruise line seeking monetary damages as well as damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress and punitive damages. In denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss the portions of the claim seeking non-monetary damages, the court noted that a plaintiff filing a personal injury action in a maritime matter may seek both monetary and non-monetary damages. “[I]t is clear that such damages, despite being nominally non-pecuniary, are recoverable,” the court ruled.

Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding Company v. Townsend, the court also ruled that Plaintiff may seek to recover punitive damages. “Accordingly,” the court held “a plaintiff may recover punitive damages under general maritime law, consistent with the common law rule, where the plaintiff’s injury was due to the defendant’s ‘wanton, willful, or outrageous conduct.’

The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine take pride in responsive, diligent and cost-effective representation. The firm’s client-centered approach, combined with vast personal injury experience, will help you to safely and confidently navigate the judicial system’s waters after an accident at sea or on land. If you or a loved one were involved injured in an accident in South Florida, please take advantage of a free consultation by contacting the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices at (800) 747-3733, or submitting an on-line “Contact Us” form.

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Capping Punitive Damages in Florida Medical Malpractice Cases – Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States