Royal Caribbean Sees $3.4 Million Damage Award Over Death Upheld

June 21, 2021, 9:30 PM

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. must pay a nearly $3.4 million jury award for emotional damages to the estate of a man who died of a heart attack several days after he sought treatment from an on-board doctor, even though the damages aren’t allowed under federal maritime law, the Eleventh Circuit held Monday.

The award stands because Florida law, which allows for non-pecuniary damages for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering, applies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said.

Richard Puchalski’s death occurred in navigable waters, so maritime law governs the case and provides the wrongful death cause of action. But state statutes may supplement maritime law and allow for remedies beyond those provided under maritime law, the appeals court said.

Florida law applies because it is the base of Royal Caribbean’s operations and is also the state where the case was filed, the court said.

The court rejected Royal Caribbean’s argument that the law of Wisconsin—where Puchalski lived—should have actually controlled, which would have barred the recovery of non-pecuniary damages.

Royal Caribbean argued that the $3.36 million portion of the $3.38 million jury award for emotional distress and similar losses should be tossed because Wisconsin law bars the recovery of damages for deaths caused outside the state.

Puchalski and his wife took a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the ruling.

While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he began experiencing shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary.

He was examined by the ship’s physician and given prescription medication—an ACE inhibitor, a beta blocker, and a diuretic.

Puchalski returned to his quarters, where he collapsed. He was taken to a hospital in Juneau and was airlifted to an intensive care unit in Anchorage, where he died several days later.

The estate sued Royal Caribbean in the Southern District of Florida as required by the forum selection clause on Puchalski’s cruise ticket.

Judge Jill Pryor wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Elizabeth L. Branch and Adalberto Jordan.

Haggard Law Firm PA and Philip D. Parrish in Miami represent the estate. Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel LLP and McAlpin Conroy PA represent Royal Caribbean.

The case is Goodloe v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., 11th Cir., No. 19-14324, 6/21/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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