Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. v. Spearman, 042821 FLCA3, 3D18-2188

Docket Nº3D18-2188
Opinion JudgeHENDON, J.
Party NameRoyal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Appellant, v. Lisa Spearman, Appellee.
AttorneyHolland & Knight, LLP, and Rodolfo Sorondo, Jr. and Rebecca M. Plasencia, for appellant. Colson Hicks Eidson, P.A., and Deborah J. Gander and Susan S. Carlson; Meister Law LLC, and Tonya J. Meister, for appellee.
Judge PanelBefore LOGUE, HENDON, and GORDO, JJ. LOGUE, J., concurring.
Case DateApril 28, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US), Third District

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., Appellant,

v.

Lisa Spearman, Appellee.

No. 3D18-2188

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

April 28, 2021

Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

An Appeal from the Circuit Court Lower Tribunal No. 11-23730 for Miami-Dade County, Reemberto Diaz, Judge.

Holland & Knight, LLP, and Rodolfo Sorondo, Jr. and Rebecca M. Plasencia, for appellant.

Colson Hicks Eidson, P.A., and Deborah J. Gander and Susan S. Carlson; Meister Law LLC, and Tonya J. Meister, for appellee.

Before LOGUE, HENDON, and GORDO, JJ.

HENDON, J.

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. ("Royal Caribbean") appeals from a $20.3 million final judgment entered in favor of Lisa Spearman ("Spearman") on her counts for Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness. We affirm the jury's finding of liability against Royal Caribbean and in favor of Spearman, but as the trial court failed to consider the factors set forth in section 768.74(5) of the Florida Statutes, as it was required to do when ruling on Royal Caribbean's motion for remittitur, we remand with instructions for the trial court to conduct a new hearing on the motion for remittitur to address these factors.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Operative Complaint

In 2011, Spearman filed suit against Royal Caribbean for crush injuries sustained to her right hand in August 2008 while a crewmember on the Voyager. The injuries occurred when her fingers got caught in the "pinch point" of a Semi-Watertight Door ("SWTD"), specifically an "A-60 Single Leaf Sliding Door" ("A-60 SWTD"), as the door was retracting back into the bulkhead (wall) after a Royal Caribbean nurse improperly overrode Bridge Control during a safety drill.[1] Spearman alleged that she has since been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome ("CRPS") and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"). In the operative complaint, Spearman asserted two causes of actions against Royal Caribbean that were later presented to the jury and specifically addressed by the jury in the verdict form-Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness.2

B. Pretrial Motions in Limine

i. Alternative Design for the A-60 SWTD

Prior to trial, Royal Caribbean filed a motion in limine to exclude the testimonies of Spearman's liability experts, Eric Van Iderstine ("Van Iderstine"), a mechanical engineer, and John W. Sullivan ("Sullivan"), a marine engineer, regarding an alternative design for the A-60 SWTD that Van Iderstine created for the sole purpose of this litigation using Computer Assisted Drawing software ("CAD prototype" or "CAD model"). According to Van Iderstine, the CAD prototype is a safer alternative design because it includes a cutout that eliminates the pinch point, and therefore, a person's hand can safely remain on the door handle when the door retracts into the bulkhead (wall). In addition to reshaping the door frame, the CAD prototype also requires the reshaping of the door and a gasket. The purpose of the gasket is to prevent the spread of water and smoke into other compartments. Van Iderstine's CAD prototype also included the addition of a second crash bar and sensor. Royal Caribbean does not design or manufacture the safety doors installed on any of its ships. A safety door such as the CAD prototype, which was designed by Van Iderstine several years after Spearman's accident, did not exist at the time of the accident and such a door has not been manufactured, tested, or approved by the regulatory entities governing the shipping/cruise line industry as of the date of this appeal.

In opposition to the motion in limine, Spearman submitted Van Iderstine's affidavit, which provides, in part, as follows: 12. In my positions as Machine Design Engineer and as Mechanical Engineering Manager, I personally performed engineering design of mechanical components and systems using the same engineering principles and techniques used in the design of the subject semi-watertight sliding fire door on the Voyage [sic] of the Sea cruise ship.

13. In my position as a Machine Design Engineer, I created engineering drawings of complex mechanical systems, as well as detailed component drawings, as a routine part of the machine design and manufacturing process. These included welded structural assemblies manufactured using the same methods as was used in the construction of the subject semi-watertight sliding fire door.

21. I . . . did prepare a computed [sic] aided design (CAD) model of a modified subject-type sliding door assembly. . . . I identified that an unguarded pinch point existed when the recessed pocket and door handle passed into the doorframe. . . . I determined that the hazard could be addressed by a design change and by guarding the hazardous area of the door and doorframe. The CAD model depicted changes to the right side of the door that would eliminate the pinch point hazard that injured Ms. Spearman by changing the shape of the right-side of the door, right-side door frame, and right-side seal. There are no restrictions in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) that prevents engineering design changes to enhance safety. . . .

. . . .

23. In the defense's motion to limit my testimony (Section VII - 7), the defendant is critical of my alternate design due to a lack of testing of the design I proposed. As a design engineer, I have reviewed the engineering drawings, documents, and photographs of the existing subject door and produced a CAD model (Exhibit 4) of an alternate design that simply changes the shape of one portion of the door and door frame. I have accounted for the ability of the door to continue to provide a seal using the same cross-section seal as is currently in use and have opined that the modifications to the existing design use the same construction techniques as are currently in use. The design I propose would not adversely impact the stiffness or soundness of the existing design, and my opinion is to a reasonable degree of mechanical engineering certainty that the alternate design would eliminate the hazard while providing the current level of leakage resistance and fire protection. . . .

24. In the defense's motion to limit my testimony (Section VII - 9), the defendant is critical of my alternate design as being novel and not currently being manufactured or approved by the DNV. The alternate design that I have proposed utilizes the same materials and method of construction as the subject semi-watertight door and, based on widely accepted mechanical engineering principles, would offer similar levels of performance to the existing door, but no longer have the hazard that injured Ms. Spearman. The alternate design I have proposed only changes the shape of the right-hand side of the door and the door frame as viewed while departing the medical facility. I have reviewed photographs that were part of my case file of cruise ship doors that have cutouts on the door frame that allow for the hand of a person to be on the handle of a sliding door when it opens. The use of a modified door frame is not novel and is in use on ship doors to provide an increased level of safety and risk mitigation. Had the level of safety been present on the subject semi-watertight door, Ms. Spearman's hand would not have been pulled between the door and door frame. . . .

25. In the defense's motion to limit my testimony (Section VII - 10), the defendant states that I am "aware of no door that is presently manufactured which meets the FTP code approval with a design similar to the one proposed in his CAD drawing." As I have stated above, the use of cutouts on ship doors is not a novel idea. Additionally, Parmarine, the manufacturer of the subject door, markets A-60 SWTDs that have cutouts in the door itself so that ducts or hoses can be in the doorway while still allowing the door to open and close. . . . . . . .

28. In the defense's motion to limit my testimony (Section VII -15), the defendant states, "Mr. Van Iderstine is aware of no door in use today aboard oceangoing ships that incorporates a crash bar device on the door frame." This statement is misleading as it relates to the issue of addressing the pinch point hazard that injured Ms. Spearman. . . . The actual subject door that injured Ms. Spearman incorporated a crash bar on the moving portion of the door. My alternate design to guard the pinch point hazard that injured Ms. Spearman would simply add a second crash bar on the right side door frame that would provide the same level of protection to a person whose had is on the door handle as the current crash bar offers to the person or object that in contacts. My proposed alternate design, whether it is referred to as a proximity sensor or crash bar, is based on widely acceptable engineering methods, physics, and mechanical engineering design.

In addition to Van Iderstine's affidavit, Spearman also submitted Sullivan's affidavit, which was filed after he reviewed Royal Caribbean's motion in limine and Van Iderstine's deposition and exhibits. Based on industry standards and his experience and education, Sullivan opined as follows: In defense's Motion in Limine to exclude Eric Van Iderstein's [sic] testimony defendants cite that the door redesigned by Iderstein [sic] is not "feasible" because the door did not undergo the testing and approval procedures necessary for getting a modification of an existing piece of equipment in order to have it approved by a Classification society. I disagree. It is feasible. There is a normal and routine process that can be carried out in a timely manner in order to get the modified design approved by Class. . . . .

The modification to the incident type door in the Spearman case proffered by Iderstein [sic]...

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