QCR Summer 2021: Goodloe v. Royal Caribbean Cruises (No. 19-14324) (11th Cir. 2021)
Goodloe v. Royal Caribbean Cruises (No. 19-14324) (11th Cir. 2021): US Eleventh Circuit applies Florida State Law which permits recovery of non-pecuniary damages.
Laura Goodloe filed this wrongful death action in the Southern District of Florida (per the cruise ticket’s forum selection clause) on behalf of her deceased father’s estate, Richard Puchalski, against Royal Caribbean Cruises (“RCL”). Mr. Puchalski is a citizen of the U.S state of Wisconsin. He and his wife took a cruise aboard an RCL cruise ship to Alaska. 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. Mr. Puchalski returned to his quarters, where he collapsed and later died of a heart attack after seeing a doctor on board an RCL cruise ship.
In the district court, a jury found RCL liable and awarded pecuniary and substantial non-pecuniary damages. RCL appealed the award of non-pecuniary damages. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision depended on the applicable law in this case. The Court noted that “[g]eneral maritime law does not allow non-pecuniary damages for wrongful death, but the Supreme Court has held that state law may supplement general maritime law for damages in wrongful death suits for deaths that occur within state territorial waters. Yamaha Motor Corp., USA v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199, 216 (1996).”
The district court found that Florida law governs the non-pecuniary damages award, in Florida non-pecuniary damages are allowed. However, RCL argued that Wisconsin law should apply instead.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that Florida law applied to supplement maritime tort law after addressing the question using a modified Lauritzen factors test for domestic choice-of-law. The factor considered were as follows:
- place of the wrongful act;
- domicile of the injured;
- domicile of the defendant;
- place of contract;
- law of the forum, and
- location of the defendant’s base of operations.
Factors three through six, in particular, solidified the Court’s decision to apply Florida law. Because it is the base of Royal Caribbean’s operations and is also the state where the case was filed, the court indicated.
Parties that find themselves in the Eleventh Circuit, particularly in bodily injury cases must be mindful of this modified Lauritzen test. And for those parties that operate out of a state that permits non-pecuniary damages, this ruling presents an opportunity for plaintiffs to secure further damages. Finally, for cruise companies and other companies operating out of Florida, it seems fairly certain that Florida law governing non-pecuniary damages will be applicable and such damages may be awarded.