I recently represented a crew member who was hired from Haiti named Willy Dolcin. Mr. Dolcin was 37 years old when he decided to leave his family in Haiti and go work onboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship as a cleaner. A cleaner is one of the lowest level jobs onboard the ship, and required him to work 10 hours per day, 7 days per week. For that, the cruise line paid him the total of $566.00 per month. In addition to the myriad of cleaning duties and obligations he had each day, which kept him on his feet 10 hours per day, 7 days a week, engaging in various strenuous activities involving bending, stooping, kneeling, crawling, and lifting of heavy items, he was assigned to assist in the luggage operations on what is termed the turnaround day of the cruise ship, which is when passengers on the cruise leave, and the new passengers come onboard. The cruise ship he was working on carried approximately 2,400 passengers each cruise. Therefore, the amount of luggage going on and coming off the cruise ship can be mindboggling.
The cruise ship company decided, instead of hiring additional help to assist in the luggage operations on the turnaround day, to utilize the already overworked cleaners aboard the cruise ship. Mr. Dolcin was one of those individuals who was required to, in addition to his regular duties, assist with the luggage operations each week when the cruise ship had its turnaround day.
Mr. Dolcin was considered an excellent worker, and had excellent reviews with his supervisors. He loved working, knowing that he was supporting his family who was back in Haiti. In fact he stated that he was never ever going to see his family, especially his kids, have to beg for food because of their economic situation. Working onboard a cruise ship enabled him to earn money, hope for a promotion, and support his family back home.
Due to the strenuous work requirements, which he was required to engage in for 8 months straight without any days off or vacation, Mr. Dolcin started to develop back pain. Initially he thought the back pain was just muscle aches due to the long hours and being tired. The cruise line never bothered to tell him that they were aware that many crewmembers were injured due to what is termed a cumulative trauma disorder, which means that eventually over time due to the repetitive tasks, and the lack of adequate rest and exercise, the cumulative effects result in a musculoskeletal injury.
In Mr. Dolcin’s case, after working long hours during his shift operating a heavy duty shampoo machine, he felt like his back muscles had been strained and he sought medical attention onboard the ship with the cruise ship medical staff. The shipboard medical doctor evaluated Mr. Dolcin, and he was taken off work. He was left onboard the ship for the next few weeks to rest, and was provided with pain medication and anti-inflammatory medications. The cruise ship has its main port in Miami. Initially he was not taken off the ship for an evaluation in Miami. Instead it was decided to leave him onboard the ship and monitor his condition.
Mr. Dolcin improved but the pain did not resolve completely. He was then taken off the ship when it arrived in Miami at a subsequent date, and the cruise ship company decided he should receive his medical care and treatment in Santo Domingo.
The cruise ship company, under the Maritime law has an obligation to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical treatment to their crewmembers. They choose where the crewmembers will receive the medical care and treatment. They select and pay for the doctors. Accordingly, under the Maritime law, those doctors they do choose to treat the seamen are considered the cruise ship companies agents under the law, and if those medical care providers selected by the cruise ship company act negligently in the care and treatment of the crewmember, the cruise ship company is held liable for that negligence. This action is brought under a federal statute called the Jones Act, which provides seamen with a remedy against their employer for the negligence of the employer. Again, the negligence of the employer includes the negligence of any of the employer’s employees or agents. The medical care providers selected by the cruise ship company are considered agents of the cruise ship employer.
When Mr. Dolcin arrived in Santo Domingo, the Spanish speaking doctor there told Mr. Dolcin that an MRI and X-Rays revealed he had a very serious back condition, including an unstable back, which required immediate corrective back surgery, a two level back fusion.
The surgery was performed within days of the doctor’s first visit with Mr. Dolcin. No conservative treatment was attempted prior to the back fusion operation. No second opinion was obtained. The cruise ship company approved the surgery, and did not seek to get a second opinion for Mr. Dolcin, nor question why no conservative treatment was attempted prior to submitting Mr. Dolcin to a major two level back fusion.
Mr. Dolcin underwent a two level back fusion. After only 3 months following the surgery, the surgeon found him at maximum medical cure, and restricted him to lifting weights no greater than 20lbs for the rest of his life. The surgeon found him not fit to return to work onboard the ship. Mr. Dolcin was then discharged from the company and sent home without any money.
We brought an action on Mr. Dolcin’s behalf for failure to provide a safe place to work by overworking him, resulting in a cumulative trauma disorder. As well as failure to warn him of the dangers of a cumulative trauma disorder so that he would be aware of such when experiencing what he believed to be simply back aches or muscle tiredness. We also claimed that the doctor in Santo Domingo committed medical negligence by rushing Mr. Dolcin to an unnecessary two level back fusion, without exhausting conservative treatment. We also alleged the surgeon overstated the seriousness of the problem in order to rush Mr. Dolcin to surgery.
Mr. Dolcin was never able to return to work onboard the cruise ship.
The cruise ship company felt the case was worth very little money because Mr. Dolcin was from a third world country that is one of the poorest countries in the world. They were not interested in a pre-trial settlement. Therefore, we had to proceed forward to a Dade County jury.
After approximately 6 days of trial, the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $6,228,325. You can see a summary of our jury verdict that was recently published in Florida Jury Verdict Review & Analysis.
Our firm represents passengers, crewmembers, and any one injured on the waterways. We are admiralty and maritime personal injury and wrongful death attorneys. I have been handling maritime cases for 30 years. I have been an invited speaker before the United States Congress to address cruise ship safety and security issues.