Magical Cruise Co. v. Martins

Decision Date12 November 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 5D20-0379, Case No. 5D20-1802
Citation330 So.3d 993
Parties MAGICAL CRUISE COMPANY LIMITED d/b/a Disney Cruise Line, Appellant/Cross-Appellee, v. Ana Maria Reis MARTINS, Appellee/Cross-Appellant. Ana Maria Reis Martins, Appellant, v. Magical Cruise Company Limited, d/b/a Disney Cruise Line, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Jack R. Reiter and Sydney Feldman, of GrayRobinson, P.A., Miami, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee, Magical Cruise Company Limited, d/b/a Disney Cruise Line.

Julio J. Ayala, of Crewmember & Maritime Advocacy Center, Miami, and Ralph O. Anderson, of Ralph O. Anderson, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant, Ana Maria Reis Martins,

Julio J. Ayala, of Crewmember & Maritime Advocacy Center, Miami, and Ralph O. Anderson, of Ralph O. Anderson, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for Appellant Ana Maria Reis Martins.

Jack R. Reiter and Sydney Feldman, of GrayRobinson, P.A., Miami, for Appellee Magical Cruise Company Limited, d/b/a Disney Cruise Line.


Magical Cruise Company Limited D/B/A Disney Cruise Line ("Disney") appeals the final judgment rendered after a jury trial in favor of Ana Maria Reis Martins ("Martins"), a former crew member on Disney's Dream cruise ship. Martins cross-appeals that final judgment and also appeals a separate order denying her post-judgment motion for attorneys’ fees.1 Of the issues raised by the parties on appeal, we find merit only in Disney's challenge to the awards of punitive and future economic damages to Martins. Accordingly, for the reasons explained below, we affirm the final judgment in part, strike the award of punitive damages, and reverse in part and remand solely for a new trial on economic damages. We affirm the separate order denying Martins’ motion for attorneys’ fees.

Martins, who was injured in an accident while in Disney's employ, filed suit alleging (1) negligence under the maritime Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104,2 and (2) Disney's wrongful failure to reinstate maintenance and cure benefits after she presented medical records showing that she suffered exacerbated and additional injuries related to the original accident. In a later-added punitive damages claim, Martins alleged that 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. Disney challenges the punitive and economic damages awarded. After placing this maritime action in its legal context, we address the punitive and economic damages issues, respectively, and thereafter discuss the cross-appeal and attorneys’ fee issues raised by Martins.

I. Legal Context

This case arises under maritime law, pursuant to which a shipowner has the legal responsibility to provide food, lodging, and medical services, called "maintenance and cure," to a crew member injured in its service. Grazette v. Magical Cruise Co. , 280 So. 3d 1120, 1124 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019) (observing that under maritime law, "a seaman has the right to receive compensation for food, lodging, and medical services resulting from illnesses or injuries suffered while working aboard a ship" (quoting Gabriel v. Disney Cruise Line , 93 So. 3d 1121, 1123 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) )). The obligation to provide maintenance and cure is not without limitation, however; it concludes when the seaman reaches maximum medical improvement ("MMI"). Vaughan v. Atkinson , 369 U.S. 527, 531, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed.2d 88 (1962) ("Maintenance and cure ... extends during the period when he is incapacitated to do a seaman's work and continues until he reaches maximum medical recovery."). Once the incapacity is declared to be permanent, the shipowner's obligation ends. Messier v. Bouchard Transp. , 688 F.3d 78, 81-82 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Vella v. Ford Motor Co. , 421 U.S. 1, 5, 95 S.Ct. 1381, 43 L.Ed.2d 682 (1975) ). Thus, maintenance and cure must only be provided until it appears that "future treatment will merely relieve pain and suffering but not otherwise improve the seaman's physical condition." Barahona v. Kloster Cruise Ltd. , 851 So. 2d 235, 238 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003) (quoting Pelotto v. L & N Towing Co. , 604 F.2d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 1979) ). Herein lies the crux of Martins’ maintenance and cure claim, on which the punitive damages claim was seated.

II. Punitive Damages

At trial, Martins successfully contended that punitive damages should be awarded based on Disney's allegedly arbitrary, willful, and callous disregard of her rights in refusing to reinstate her maintenance and cure benefits. Disney argues, as it did below, that it acted reasonably and in good faith when it repeatedly denied Martins’ requests for reinstatement and that there is no evidence to the contrary; thus, it asserts, the punitive damages issue should not have gone to the jury. Our review of the propriety of the punitive damages issue being placed before the jury requires a summary of the relevant factual background.

A. Background Facts.

Martins worked as an assistant dining room server aboard Disney's Dream cruise ship beginning in June 2013. Approximately three months into her employment, Martins was on shore leave in the Bahamas when she was hit by a car while attempting to cross a street. Her treatment on board the ship culminated with her debarkation and return to her home in Portugal for treatment for broken ribs. Martins kept Disney apprised of all her medical interactions in Portugal, and Disney paid her maintenance and cure without objection. In March 2014, Martins’ doctor in Portugal determined she was at MMI as of March 1, 2014 ("First MMI"). She returned to work on the Dream in April 2014, but within weeks complained of intense chest pain. Soon after seeing the ship doctor, who suspected post-traumatic intercostal neuralgia, Martins disembarked the ship and returned home to Portugal for medical care.

Disney again advised Martins to select any physician she wished and send the medical reports and bills to Disney for reimbursement. At trial, Martins agreed that she could see any doctor—and as many doctors—as she wanted to see, and Disney did not restrict her or challenge any of her medical bills during this time. The first doctor she saw in Portugal at this time diagnosed her with post-traumatic intercostal neuralgia and referred her to a neurologist, but Martins instead chose Dr. Martins Ribeiro, a neurosurgeon, based on a neighbor's recommendation. Dr. Ribeiro diagnosed Martins with broken ribs and a fractured sternum

(the first time a sternum injury was diagnosed) and recommended Martins go to pain management appointments, which she did. On September 9, 2014, Dr. Ribeiro declared Martins at MMI as of July 10, 2014 ("Second MMI"); the Second MMI provided Dr. Ribeiro's diagnosis as "post-traumatic intercostal neuralgia" and stated that Martins was not fit to work as a server. Martins provided this Second MMI to Disney, and Disney terminated Martins’ maintenance and cure benefits as of September 2014.

A year later, Martins hired counsel, who initiated contact with Disney in September 2015 and demanded immediate reinstatement of maintenance and cure benefits. Disney requested information so it could investigate this claim and proposed that, if Martins was seeking an "amicable resolution," Martins’ counsel should send Disney a demand package for consideration. Martins did not send a demand package and instead filed her lawsuit on December 4, 2015.

A week after filing suit, Martins’ counsel provided Disney with medical records3 and receipts, all showing Martins was receiving treatment for chronic pain and was under the care of a psychologist and Dr. Fernando Pita, a neurologist. Disney's marine claims representative reviewed these records, determined that none of them negated either of the two MMIs previously received, and refused to reinstate maintenance and cure.

Eight months passed before Martins’ counsel wrote Disney again, enclosing the medical records of an orthopedist who evaluated Martins in July 2016 and described Martins' "active problems" as "chronic neuropathic pain, depressive syndrome

, insomnia, functional limitation, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease." Martins’ counsel also provided more medical reports including one from Dr. Pita reflecting a diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy and a thoracic vertebral collapse, for which he referred Martins to an orthopedic surgeon, a pain clinic, and physical and occupational therapy. In light of these additional medical records, Martins requested that Disney reinstate her maintenance and cure.

Disney's claims representative again determined the records did not mention, much less negate or refute, the prior findings that she had reached MMI, nor did they reflect a recommendation for any curative treatment. The claims representative advised Martins that the new records did not contradict the Second MMI. Counsel for Martins and Disney continued the "submit and reject" pattern several more times, and in February 2017, Disney hired a neurologist to review Martins’ medical records. Disney's neurologist reached the same conclusion as Disney's claims representative and counsel—the documents did not reflect curative treatment being prescribed and did not contradict the Second MMI.

In July 2017, Martins’ counsel furnished Disney with a statement from Dr. Ribeiro clarifying his Second MMI was made purely from a neurosurgical medical opinion and did not address Martins’ MMI status from an orthopedic, neurologic, psychological, psychiatric, or pain medicine opinion. Dr. Ribeiro deferred to Martins’ other treating physicians as to whether she was at MMI for each subspecialty of medicine.

Martins moved to amend her complaint to include a claim for punitive damages in December 2017, asserting that Disney's three-year refusal to reinstate maintenance and cure was willful and callous. While voicing its opinion that the basis for the motion was "a little bit thin," ...

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