Cruise ship sailing through placid waters. Cruise ship in placid waters. Photo: NAN728/

A federal jury has ruled against Norwegian Cruise Line to the tune of more than $2 million in a medical negligence lawsuit.

The March 1 verdict determined the company owed $2.08 million in damages to 47 year-old plaintiff Andre Ow Buland for its response to a heart attack he suffered on-board the Norwegian Pearl in November 2016. One of Ow Buland’s attorneys, Coral Gables litigator Gary Friedman, said his client received “substandard care” that caused permanent and preventable heart damage.

“The ship had just left Ocho Rios and was 30 miles from shore and 700 miles from Miami when the heart attack occurred,” Friedman said.

Ow Buland was struck with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, a heart attack caused by blockage of the coronary artery.

“Time is tissue when it comes to heart attacks,” Friedman said. “When heart muscle dies it does not regenerate. The goal is always to reperfuse as soon as possible.”

The doctor treating Ow Buland opted not to administer thrombolytic therapy, a treatment designed to dissolve blood clots in cases of heart attacks or strokes.

Despite the seriousness of Ow Buland’s condition, he was reassured by the Norwegian Pearl medical staff that he had only suffered a minor heart attack. After being kept in the ship’s infirmary for 36 hours, he was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital once the cruise returned to port in Miami. The ship had not sped up in response to Ow Buland’s condition.

Upon arrival at Mount Sinai it was discovered Ow Buland was in cardiogenic shock, necessitating an emergency procedure and the placement of four stents in his arteries. Friedman explained his client later had a defibrillator and pacemaker placed in him to prevent the risk of sudden cardiac death from the heart damage he’d sustained. The attorney said Norwegian’s customers are “not going to get the type of first-rate care” they think they’re purchasing with their tickets.

“The medical care on these ships very often has not kept up with the shipbuilding capacities of these cruise lines,” Friedman said. “As they advertise these floating ships and they’ve got all these advances and technology … very often if you have a critical health issue you end up being trained by a foreign-trained physician with limited experience.”

According to Friedman’s co-counsel Andrew Waks, the doctor who attended to Ow Buland was medically trained in the Philippines, had only practiced for a few years and had never administered thrombolytic medication.

“Nothing was done that was going to break up that clot,” Waks said. “We had a Coast Guard [testify] who said the best thing to do would’ve been to turn the boat around … And [NCL staff] didn’t do that.”

Ow Buland filed a two-count complaint against NCL in the Southern District of Florida on Nov. 14, 2017. Waks noted the suit was made possible by the outcome of Patricia Franza vs. Royal Caribbean Cruise in 2014, a lawsuit in which he represented the plaintiff. Appellate attorney Philip Parrish argued the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the court ultimately found cruise lines can be sued “directly for vicarious liability by its medical personnel,” Waks said.

Read the complaint:  

Norwegian denied the allegations and argued none of the harm suffered by Ow Buland was the result of failure on the part of the ship’s medical ships. The defendant also filed a motion for partial summary judgment, contending in part there was no evidence showing Ow Buland’s heart damage had harmed his ability to earn a living, an argument put forth by the plaintiff.

“All that has been presented is plaintiff’s subjective testimony that he cannot work anymore because he tires easily,” the motion said.

Norwegian’s legal counsel, Cole, Scott & Kissane attorney Rachel Beige, told the Daily Business Review, “We don’t report or comment on any sort of pending litigation.”

Her co-counsel, fellow Cole, Scott & Kissane lawyer Barry Postman, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Friedman said the defense characterized his client as having “an incredible amount of nerve to sue because they saved him.”

“‘We kept you on the ship for 36 hours … and while we didn’t treat your heart attack, we saved your life.’ That was their defense,” he said.

Ultimately, the jury sided with the plaintiff’s argument and found Ow Buland’s permanent injuries were the result of negligence by ship personnel. The jury awarded $1.2 million for pain and suffering as well as $800,00 for hospitalization and $84,000 for loss of services.

Friedman had no qualms calling the case difficult with respect to the size of the jury.

“It’s challenging when you have to have a unanimous verdict, and every additional person you have to convince adds to the challenge,” he said. Friedman described his client as “extremely happy” with the outcome.

“What patient would want to be treated like that?” he asked. “Apparently the jury agreed.”

Case: Andre Ow Buland v. NCL Ltd. doing business as Norwegian Cruise Line

Case No.: 1:17-cv-24167-PCH

Description: Medical negligence

Filing date: Nov. 14, 2017

Verdict date: March 1, 2019

Judge: U.S. District Judge Paul Huck

Plaintiffs attorneys:  Andrew Waks, Waks and Barnett, Miami; Gary Alan Friedman and Zachary Friedman, Law Offices of Friedman and Friedman, Coral Gables; and Philip Parrish, Miami

Defense attorneys: Barry Postman and Rachel Beige, Cole, Scott & Kissane, West Palm Beach

Verdict amount: $2,084,000