Royal Caribbean's motion for summary judgment denied in passenger death

By Charmaine Little | Nov 9, 2018

U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Maria Altonaga  

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. isn’t entitled to its motion for summary judgement in a wrongful death case, the United States District Court in the Southern District of Florida ruled on October 17.

Todd and Lisa Skokan sued the popular cruise line after their son, Nathan Skokan, fell off the side of the cruise ship during a family vacation. Skokan was intoxicated when he went to the outer portion of the ship on the 12th floor with fellow passengers he met while on the cruise. One of them joked that they should jump overboard, and the deceased acted as if he was throwing himself on the handrail, but instead he fell. His parents said their son accidentally fell because he lost his balance, and they sued Royal Caribbean for negligence, wrongful death via Death of the High Seas Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment. The court detailed why it decided to deny Royal Caribbeans’ motion for summary judgement.

For the negligence claim, the Skokan’s said Royal Caribbean was at fault for not only serving the deceased with high amounts of alcohol just hours before he died, but also not trying to rescue him once he accidentally went overboard. When it comes to the alcohol claim, the court pointed out witnesses and an expert report determined the deceased was actually drunk at the time of his death. As for any attempt to rescue the deceased, the court pointed out Royal Caribbean didn’t lower the rescue boats until two hours after passengers told personnel he fell overboard. It also said the cruise ship failed to have rescue teams ready at an appropriate time. It added the cruise line’s decision to put its crew members roughly 100 feet above the water at night with no extra search and rescue techniques also determined Royal Caribbean wasn’t entitled to summary judgement for the negligence claim.

The court then looked at emotional distress and infliction. While the defendants said there’s no proof that determines it purposefully executed emotional distress and infliction, the court disagreed. For starters, Mr. and Mrs. Skokan said approximately seven hours after Nathan’s accident, cruise line personnel made three announcements for its passengers, such as the plaintiffs to hear, that someone went overboard on purpose, allegedly indicating the deceased had taken his own life. The court said it was up to a jury, not the court, to decide if the defendant was out of line.

Court rules Royal Caribbean lawsuit can proceed.  

The court also agreed with Mr. and Mrs. Skokan on the false imprisonment claims. Royal Caribbean said the parents were never restricted to stay in their cabin, and that the plaintiffs mistook the cruise line’s hospitality for captivity. Still, the opinion pointed out Mrs. Skokan was stopped by a security guard when she tried to leave the cabin. She stayed in the cabin while the security guard was outside the door until her fellow passengers got off the ship. The court also said this was an issue for a jury.

Ultimately, the motion for summary judgement was denied completely. U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga authored the decision.

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