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Florida Fifth DCA reverses award of punitive damages in maritime case in which former cruise ship employee sued Disney Cruise Line for failing to provide maintenance and cure benefits for injuries she sustained in off-ship accident

On November 2, 2021, in Magical Cruise Company Limited d/b/a Disney Cruise Line v. Martins, No. 5D20-0379, the Florida Fifth DCA partially reversed a judgment for the plaintiff in a maritime case in which a former crew member of Disney’s Dream cruise ship sued Disney for negligence under the maritime Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, regarding the handling of her medical care for injuries she sustained in an off-ship accident. The plaintiff additionally claimed that Disney wrongfully failed to reinstate maintenance and cure benefits after she presented medical records showing that she suffered exacerbated and additional injuries related to the original accident, including a punitivedamages claimthat Disney’s refusal to reinstate her maintenance and cure benefits was willful, arbitrary, or in callous disregard of her right to reinstatement of those benefits. At trial, the jury found Disney was negligent and had failed to provide all the maintenance and cure to which the plaintiff was entitled. It found Disney 70% and the plaintiff 30% comparatively negligent and awarded the plaintiff $1 million for non-economic damages, $2 million for economic damages, and $1 million in punitive damages. On appeal, Disney challenged the trial court’s denial of its motion for directed verdict as to the punitive damages claim. The Fifth DCA agreed, quoting from Norwegian Cruise Lines, Ltd. v. Zareno, 712 So. 2d 791 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), for the principle that in a maritime case involving an alleged failure to pay maintenance and cure, to prevail on apunitive damages claim theremust be evidence that the shipowner acted with a level of callousness,recalcitrance, and bad faith, which the Fifth DCA concluded the plaintiff did not present. The Fifth DCA relied on Norwegian Cruise Lines, Ltd. v. Zareno, 712 So. 2d 791 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998),in which the Third DCA explained the level of fault a shipowner’s conduct must reach to be considered worthy of punitive damages. Disney also challenged the award of economic damages, claiming that the trial court erred in allowing the testimony of plaintiff’s forensic economist expert as to future economic damages because the court allegedly did not perform the requisite gatekeeping function under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Fifth DCA agreed with Disney on this issue as well, finding that the expert’s calculations as to future medical expenses were unreliable because the individual who provided the data to the expert merely assigned costs to a list ofprocedures and medications with no nexus between them and what the plaintiff might actually need or how frequently she might need them.