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$1.25 Million Arbitration Verdict for Injured Crewmember

In Burzan v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, case no. 50-517T00024-09, arbitrators Patricia B. Diaz, Cindy N. Hannah and Jerome H. Wolfson award the plaintiff crewmember $1.25 Million for maintenance and cure, the cost of future surgery and all measures of compensatory damages awardable, including her legal costs related to the arbitration. At the time of her injury, the plaintiff was working aboard the JEWEL OF THE SEAS when another crewmember opened a door, which hit the plaintiff in the back on June 17, 2008. The plaintiff fell and received medical attention the next day.

The ship's doctor declared the plaintiff unfit for duty, but she continued working at her supervisor's insistence, aggravating her back injury. The plaintiff later received medical care in St. Petersburg, Russia and in Stockholm, Sweden, where she was misdiagnosed with a spinal fracture. The plaintiff had actually suffered a herniated disc and foot drop. The plaintiff was subsequently flown to her native Serbia for back surgery, which allegedly took more than 5 months to authorize and was performed at the wrong level. The plaintiff claims she remained in pain and sought a second surgery and that this time, it is alleged that Royal Caribbean stopped cooperating and stopped paying her living expenses.

Royal Caribbean defended the case by arguing that it provided all the medical care that was necessary and was not responsible for any damages, as the plaintiff chose a doctor "outside the employer's network." The arbitration panel found that while Royal Caribbean did not act in a callous manner and thus, the plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages or attorney's fees, it found that it was not reasonable for Royal Caribbean to deny maintenance and medical expenses to the employee when it ended payments on June 25, 2009.

This case is another one that sends a clear signal that arbitration, so desperately sought by the cruise lines in the wake of the Bautista, may not provide the relief the cruise lines thought they would be receiving by forcing crewmembers into arbitration as opposed to allowing them to bring their cases before the courts.

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