A Florida jury has awarded $20.3 million to a former employee of Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose hand was crushed while coming to the aid of a fellow worker during an emergency test in 2008.
After a three-week trial, a Miami-Dade County jury on Friday found the Miami-based cruise company negligent in operating an unseaworthy ship and 100 percent liable for the injuries suffered by Lisa Spearman, who was working an officer on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas.
Spearman sued the company in 2011, three years after her right hand was caught in a watertight power door during a fire-safety drill. According to her lawyers, Spearman was trying to prevent the door from closing on the ship’s nurse when her hand was pulled into recess pocket of the sliding door and crushed.
The nurse, her attorneys said, had breached the company’s safety protocol when she stumbled through the door, prompting the response from Spearman.
According to court documents, Royal Caribbean later refused to rehire Spearman or pursue disability benefits on her behalf. Spearman’s attorneys said she has suffered complex regional pain syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder since the incident.
The verdict included $12 million for pain and suffering, $7 million for medical costs and a total of $1.3 million for lost earnings, both past and future.
“We are extremely pleased with the jury’s verdict,” Deborah J. Gander, a partner with Coral Gables-based Colson Hicks Eidson, said in a statement.
“This case was fiercely defended but justice rightfully prevailed in the end. We hope this case will bring awareness and lead to substantial safety changes aboard cruise ships so that injuries like Lisa’s, and those of the twelve other crew members, can be avoided.”
A Royal Caribbean said Monday that it “respectfully” disagreed with the outcome of the case.
“We are considering our legal options, and we intend to appeal the decision,” Rob Zeiger, a company spokesman, said in a statement.
An attorney for Royal Caribbean did not return a call seeking comment on Friday’s verdict.
Spearman’s lawsuit asserted claims under the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the U.S., as well as the Seaman’s Wage Act and the General Maritime Law of the United States.
In her complaint, Spearman faulted the company for not providing a safe working environment and failing to properly train and supervise staff. According to Spearman’s lawyers, 12 other Royal Caribbean employees sustained similar hand injuries in the three year’s leading up to the incident.