Royal Caribbean Cruises hit with $3.38 million in damages in passenger death lawsuit

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Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. owes $3.38 million to the family of a passenger who died of a heart attack aboard one of its ships in 2016, a federal jury in Miami found Thursday.

Richard Puchalski died during an Alaskan cruise with his family to celebrate his 70th birthday. Phil Parrish and Lawyers from The Haggard Law Firm successfully argued that the ship’s doctor, Dr. Amanda Saunders, made several errors that turned a serious cardiac incident into a fatal heart attack.

Damages were determined to be $34,390.32 in medical expenses and $4.8 million in loss of companionship and pain and suffering. While the jury ruled there was negligence on the part of both Royal Caribbean, in the person of Sanders, and Puchalski, Royal Caribbean was judged to be 70 percent at fault. The cruise line must pay Puchalski’s estate $3,384,073.22.

“Until the cruise line industry makes the long-overdue, necessary changes to the standard of care, more families will suffer these life changing tragedies, and we will continue to file these lawsuits and present to juries these obvious cases of negligence,“ said Michael Haggard, a lawyer for Puchalski’s family.

Royal Caribbean plans to appeal. “We respectfully disagree with the outcome of this case. We are considering our legal options, and we intend to appeal the decision,” said Owen Torres, manager of corporate communications for the company.

The suit said Puchalski went to the Explorer of the Seas infirmary on July 31, 2016, with shortness of breath. Dr. Saunders found “a septal infarction, age undetermined,” gave Puchalski meds and sent him back to his room. The suit argued she should’ve contacted family, kept him for more testing or gotten him to a hospital on shore.

About a half hour later, the suit claims, Puchalski collapsed in his room. Two nurses weren’t able to lift him nor did they provide any treatment. Though additional ship personnel got Puchalski to the ship’s medical center, “there was an additional significant delay before he was transferred ashore.”

Saunders, the suit said, didn’t order a transfer to a hospital in Juneau, Alaska, until late afternoon. He died four days later.

Puchalski’s family is one of many who have raised concerns about medical care on board cruise ships. Last March, an Illinois woman suffered a stroke aboard a Holland America cruise ship, a subsidiary of Florida-based Carnival Corporation, that left from Fort Lauderdale.

Instead of returning her to Florida for care, the cruise line transported her to the Bahamas, where the hospital was not equipped to treat her condition, according to her lawsuit against the cruise line, leading to permanent brain damage. Another Royal Caribbean passenger, Cynthia Braaf, died from diabetes complications after a cruise in 2017 because of shoddy medical care on board, her family’s lawsuit alleges. Both cases are still pending in federal court.

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.