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A Former Royal Caribbean Employee Keeps Major Trial Victory Over Crushed Hand Case

May 5, 2021
Colson Hicks Eidson

In 2008, Lisa Spearman was working as a marketing and revenue manager onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Voyager of the Seas, when she suffered a horrendous accident during a safety drill. Spearman saw a nurse who had just returned from shore during the safety drill manually override Bridge Control to open one of the ship’s doors, which was a violation of company safety policies. The nurse, who was carrying several boxes, tripped, and the door began to close toward her.

Spearman attempted to hold the door open to override the bridge control by pressing down on the handle so the nurse would not be crushed by the closing door. When the sliding door opened, with Spearman’s hand still holding down the handle as she had been trained to do, it pulled Spearman’s hand into the recess in the wall.  Because of miscommunications between on-site security and the Bridge, Spearman’s hand was repeatedly pulled back and forth inside the recessed area, all the while still being crushed. Two of Spearman’s finders were broken, her fingernails were pulled out at the roots, and she developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of her hand being trapped while being crushed inside the recess.

In 2018, a jury returned a verdict for Spearman of $6 million for past pain and suffering, another $6 million for future pain and suffering, $7 million for future medical expenses, and $1.3 million for past and future lost earnings. Spearman, through her own testimony and experts, proved at trial that she suffered from CRPS and PTSD and would require assistance for the rest of her life.

Why did Royal Caribbean Appeal the Case?

Royal Caribbean appealed the jury’s decision. The company argued during its appeal that the only comparable damage awards have gone to plaintiffs who have suffered catastrophic injuries such as quadriplegia, amputations, severe burns, or catastrophic brain damage. They argued that Spearman’s injuries did not rise to those levels.

According to an article from Law360, the heart of Royal Caribbean’s appeal was their argument the lower court should not have allowed testimony from Spearman’s experts “about an untested prototype door design that was presented to the jury as an alternative to the sliding door that crushed her hand.”

The two experts called on behalf of Spearman were mechanical engineer Eric Van Iderstine and marine engineer John W. Sullivan. They presented an alternative design for the door involved in the case.  The door was designed using computer-aided design (CAD) solely for the purpose of the trial.

What did the Appeals Court Say?

The Florida Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict on liability, noting Spearman’s attorneys argued four theories of liability and had presented sufficient evidence to prevail on the other three theories even though the alternative design theory should not have been included.

Under Florida’s “two-issue rule,” a reversal is improper if there is no error in regard to one of two or more issues submitted to the jury. In this case, the other theories presented were negligent training, failure to warn, and negligence on the part of a nurse on the ship.  The Third DCA also remanded the case to the trial court to articulate the statutory criteria he relied upon in denying Royal Caribbean’s motion to remit the verdict.

Deborah Gander of Colson Hicks Eidson is one of the cruise ship accident attorney, representing Spearman. Gander said that her client is “very pleased” with the decision by the appeals court.