The Reality the Cruise Ship Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know

These cruise ship passengers planned for vacation and celebration, but their voyages ended in tragedy and catastrophe. Learn from their stories before buying your next ticket.

What the Cruise Ship Industry Isn’t Telling

Justin Smulison

October 20, 2021 05:30 AM

Millions of travelers have positive experiences boarding cruises every year. But injuries can occur while at sea, whether intentionally through assault, accidentally because of medical negligence or due to unsafe maintenance or navigation. That is why passengers should be cognizant of these risks and know what rights they have in the event they get hurt or become ill.

Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. (LMW, P.A.) is a Florida-based maritime law firm that, since its inception in 1971, has successfully represented thousands of passengers and crew members and their families who have suffered injuries and fatalities due to the negligence of cruise operators. The firm is ranked Tier 1 in Miami, Florida in Admiralty & Maritime Law and Personal Injury – Plaintiffs by U.S. News - Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms.”

Some of the firm’s current clients have shared their stories with Best Lawyers and offered insight about what others can do if in similar situations.

Lipcon Margulies Winkleman Logo Inline

Medical Negligence Leads To Unfathomable Tragedy

Katie and Isaiah Lunde were married for 14 years in February 2020 – and six months earlier had welcomed their fourth child – when they boarded a Carnival Cruise with two of their children and extended family. The couple left Idaho to set sail from California and were enjoying what Katie referred to as “a dream come true.” By the second day, 34-year-old Isaiah experienced tremendous chest pain, feeling like he was having a heart attack.

The doctor on the ship reviewed an EKG and blood test. He said the full-time dad had likely pulled a muscle, possibly from playing with his children. Isaiah eventually checked himself back into the boat’s medical facility (Medbay) due to difficulty breathing in addition to the persistent chest pain.

“Eventually they connected him to a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) because his heart rate or his oxygen levels dropped,” Katie said. “They also thought he might be trying to pass a kidney stone. He was really uncomfortable, and something was clearly not right.”

Roughly 36 hours after he was first seen by the ship’s medical staff, Carnival finally airlifted Isaiah off the boat to the nearest hospital. After several grueling hours of phone calls, of which the ship was no help, Katie finally got through to the hospital, where a doctor informed Katie that Isaiah had tragically passed away in the helicopter. He had suffered from an aortic dissection, which is a tear in the inner layer of the large blood vessel branching off the heart.

As alleged, the cruise line failed to properly and timely diagnose Isaiah’s deadly condition, and had he been given proper treatment at the outset, he would still be alive and with his family.

Adding insult to heartbreak, the cruise line had the audacity to bill Katie $4,000 for Medbay fees after previously promising they would be waived. The cruise line sent her a check for $350 which was Isiah’s cabin fee.

“The whole ordeal was handled so poorly, which made me question Carnival even further,” said Katie, who works as a shift supervisor at Starbucks. “I began to wonder if there was more they weren’t telling me, which is why I felt I needed an attorney to get answers for me and my children.”

Katie hired LMW, P.A. to represent her in a medical negligence claim against Carnival Cruise Lines. The matter is still in discovery phase. The law firm has uncovered that the doctor on the ship was not employed by Carnival but was a contractor who lives in another country.

As to the medical care aboard ships generally, partner Michael Winkleman said: “One would think that with the millions of cruise ship passengers who sail annually, the medical care aboard the ships would be excellent. Sadly, that is far from the case. We’ve successfully handled countless medical negligence cases and we have fought tirelessly to hold the cruise lines accountable for the substandard medical care we see too often.”

Horrific Rape of a Minor (More Common Than You Think)

The unthinkable sadly happened to an LMW, P.A. client. A young female, K.T., was on a cruise with her family just after Christmas in 2015. She was a minor at the time, and on the first night of the cruise, a group of nearly a dozen adult men bought her drinks to the point of being highly intoxicated and unstable and then steered her to a cabin where she claimed “they brutally assaulted and gang raped her.”

K.T. alleges that everything leading up to the heinous attack happened in the view of Royal Caribbean crewmembers, including those responsible for monitoring the ship’s security cameras. The crewmembers did not intervene at any time, though they had a duty to protect their passengers. The extent of this girl’s physical, mental and emotional injuries are incomprehensible.

Following the initial lawsuit’s dismissal in district court, LMW, P.A. fought for K.T. in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 (K.T. v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD, No. 17-14237) and successfully overturned the opinion. The firm favorably resolved the case with a confidential settlement for the client shortly after the appellate opinion was issued.

“This was a landmark resolution in cruise ship case law for several reasons,” said Charles Lipcon, a 50-year maritime law veteran and founder of the firm. “On an individual level, we fought hard against a powerful, well-funded defendant to achieve justice for the young girl, whose life forever changed that day.”

Lipcon, who was named Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year” in 2020 for Admiralty & Maritime Law in Miami, noted that the Court’s ruling put a much-needed spotlight on the hidden epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults on the high seas.

“Now, all cruise lines have a duty to warn passengers about the risk of rapes and sexual assaults on their vessels, through a variety of ways,” he said. “The two most common will be in written communication with clear disclosures on their websites and in materials they distribute to passengers, or with increased security and training on the ships to monitor for this type of danger.

“We are proud to know that our relentless advocacy has had a broader societal impact by preventing further sexual assaults and making all cruises safer.”

LMW, P.A. is actively litigating dozens of similar cases and Winkleman added there is still much more progress to be made when it comes to rape and sexual assaults on cruise ships.

“There are sexual predators and people with criminal backgrounds who exploit a ship’s party-like atmosphere,” Winkleman noted. “Given this busy setting, it is incumbent on the cruise lines to do more to protect their passengers, including minors, from the rapes and sexual assaults that are so well known to occur.

“Our firm alone has handled upward of 300 cruise ship rape and sexual assault claims.”

Collision Puts Grandmother at Risk for Paralysis

Floridian Pam Necaise never thought her first cruise might upend her quality of life or traumatize her from future voyages, but it did. She boarded a Carnival ship with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson for five days in December 2019. Midway through the voyage, the ship collided with another boat at the Grand Cayman Islands, throwing the 59-year-old grandmother off her bunk head-first onto the cabin floor.

“The crew barely made any mention of the impact, which they referred to as ‘technical difficulties,’” she said. “All activities and meals on the trip were disrupted and I remained in pain in my neck and left side of my body.”

The fall put Pam at high-risk for paralysis. After several agonizing months, Pam was finally able to get the discectomy and fusion she needed to survive in October 2020. She remained in a brace for most of the following year, and costly post-operation procedures were needed to keep the screws in her neck in place. Pam will have to be extremely cautious for the rest of her life and attend physical therapy at least twice weekly to maintain the already-limited range of motion in her neck.

“I was an active person before the accident – I spent a lot of time outdoors and would walk five miles a day,” she said. “Now I can barely hold my grandson.”

Pam sought justice for the magnitude of her injuries and in March 2020 was referred to LMW, P.A.

Carol Finklehoffe is one of the lead Lipcon attorneys handling Pam’s case, which is currently in suit in Federal Court in Miami, Florida (where most cruise ship passengers are required to be filed per the cruise ticket contract). “Pam has a very significant case,” Finklehoffe said. “We will fight tirelessly to secure justice for her.”

Poor Deck Maintenance Causes Catastrophic Ankle Injury

Tennessean Shari Goff went on her cruise with her husband and friends in August 2019. She descended deck stairs, slipped on the wet surface, fell hard down the stairs and heard a crack that sent a shockwave of pain from her foot through to the rest of her body. She ultimately suffered a trimalleolar fracture of her left ankle, which meant three bones in the spot were impacted.

The ship’s doctor stabilized Shari’s foot after an excruciatingly painful initial attempt to cast it. She was given an anti-inflammatory to moderate the swelling, but another critical problem remained: The ship could not prescribe any pain medication.

So Shari was largely confined to her cabin for the rest of the trip, often in agony. Cruise ships are supposed to be known for their hospitality and stellar service, but during those three days she said the ship and staff were “less than accommodating” about providing her with meals and basic needs.

LMW, P.A. gladly accepted the case and aims to prove the cruise ship is liable for Shari’s catastrophic injury and her continued pain, beginning with the disregard for passenger safety by not closing off the wet stairway. The firm also intends to prove that the poor treatment of the cruise line furthered her suffering, which now includes early-onset arthritis.

Shari noted that other passengers tried to help her following the fall. She added a message for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation: "You should get the names and contact information of witnesses or anyone who helps you. It will help you down the line – along with pictures of the scene – when you file a complaint."

The Largest and Most Experienced Maritime Firm in the U.S. Fights for Injured Victims

Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is handling the cases on behalf of the cruise ship passengers above. With hundreds of years of experience between the firm’s 12 attorneys, LMW, P.A. has set lasting precedent in the area of maritime law and has recovered more than $300 million on behalf of passengers and crew injured on ships worldwide.

If you have experienced injury, illness or tragedy due to negligence or a crime while on a cruise, contact our legal professionals for a free case evaluation at (888) 202-0848 or

This article was written in partnership with Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A.

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