A food service worker employed on Celebrity Cruises’ Eclipse filed a cruise ship compensation claim for spinal injuries he suffered while working. In arbitration, he won a $10.3 million award for his cruise ship injury, but his former employer is now suing in void the award.
Maitre d’ on the High Seas
The injured party’s name is Slobodan Despot, and he was employed as a maitre d’ at the ship’s Murano Restaurant. In his cruise ship compensation claim, he said a sudden movement of the ship caused a bread trolley to roll, fall over, and strike him in the back while he was working in a pantry on the Eclipse in July, 2015.
Despot, by all indications, followed appropriate shipboard protocols for reporting his injury. The cruise line treated him with medical care on board immediately and made arrangements for him to receive further care. Despite this, Despot filed his claim because he says his injuries resulted in central pain syndrome. This is a neurological condition involving the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord.
The Cruise Ship Compensation Claim
Bound by his employment agreement, Despot pursued his claim via confidential arbitration process. In arbitration, the parties agreed to follow the general maritime workplace injury laws of the United States, namely the Jones Act.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of Despot on June 6, 2019, awarding him $10.3 million for his injuries. Obviously, Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Carribean Cruises, Ltd., was displeased with the decision. The company took immediate action to avoid paying out.
According to Celebrity, a key factor in the arbitrator’s decision was the cruise line’s failure to produce two pieces of evidence:
- The bread trolley: The cruise line placed the item back into service the week after Despot’s injury and could not differentiate it from the others in service aboard the ship when the arbitrator asked for it.
- Accident report and photographs: Celebrity would not release its internal records when the arbitrator asked, protesting, “work product immunity.”
The cruise line filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Miami hoping to void the arbitrator’s award. Celebrity contends the absence of the two pieces of evidence prompted the arbitrator to form an adverse presumption against the cruise line inappropriately. Under the Jones Act, the burden of proof rests with the party bringing the cruise ship compensation claim. Celebrity says the arbitrator’s decision should not have been influenced by these two absent pieces of evidence. Instead, it should be influenced by the affirmative arguments from Despot and his attorney.
The cruise line didn’t stop there. After a failed initial attempt to remove the arbitrator, Celebrity is seeking to further undermine the award by accusing the arbitrator of improperly soliciting a charitable donation from Despot’s attorney during the arbitration process.
Despot is not giving up. He filed suit in federal court seeking to confirm the arbitrator’s award.
Arbitration Under the Jones Act
The Jones Act provides an avenue for maritime workers to seek recovery for workplace injuries. Workers’ compensation laws do not apply when the injured party is at sea. Therefore, the Jones Act bridges the gap and makes it possible for workers to seek compensation such as in this cruise ship compensation claim.
Despot, employed as a maitre d’, may not fit the traditional image of a seaman, but he was employed in the work of the ship, and as such was eligible to seek redress under the Jones Act.
Unlike Despot’s claim, most cases of arbitration occur to resolve a dispute over a maritime worker’s Jones Act claim. Sometimes employers offer arbitration when they feel it will minimize the eventual sum they may have to pay. Some go so far as to argue that it is the most convenient and cost effective option for both parties. Though that may be true in some cases, there are also several disadvantages.
Arbitration is a process where an objective third party decides the outcome of a claim instead of a judge and jury. This is different from the norm in a traditional worker’s compensation matter.
Some maritime employment agreements include a clause mandating arbitration in the event of an injury, as in Despot’s case. Without this arbitration clause, federal law prohibits employers from forcing arbitration upon their employees.
Tactics Employers Use to Coerce Workers into Arbitration
Most employers prefer to settle disputes via arbitration because the eventual award amount is generally lower than in a jury trial. Large corporate entities know how expensive court and trial costs can be. They would rather avoid that expense while also minimizing their eventual pay-out. Arbitration most often benefits the employer, not the injured.
Some employers use the illegal tactic of withholding benefits or pay until their employees sign an arbitration clause. Many maritime workers, not knowing their rights, sign away their opportunity to a jury trial. This is because it seems to be the only way the company will release a paycheck or provide benefits.
Sometimes, employers will mislead workers by promising that arbitration is the faster way to come to an agreement and disperse the funds. This isn’t really true. Neither arbitration or jury cases operate on a specific timeline, and the average difference between the two is usually small.
Have Questions about Arbitration and a Cruise Ship Compensation Claim?
If you are party to an arbitration agreement with your employer, you have few options if you suffer an injury at work. That means you do still have some options, though. You certainly can benefit from the advice of an experienced cruise ship compensation claim lawyer.
Remember that you don’t have to go it alone, even if you are party to an agreement to arbitrate. You have rights. With an experienced Jones Act attorney in your corner, your chances of securing the compensation you need are much better than if you move forward without counsel. Call Maritime Injury Guide if you have been injured while aboard a cruise ship in any capacity. Call 1-866-871-8422 or email us for more information.