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Carnival Must Defend Passenger-Death Claim

MIAMI (CN) - Carnival Corp. may be liable for failing to get medical assistance for a cruise ship passenger who died after going into cardiac arrest, a federal judge ruled.

Ermon Lee Butler was on an April 2013 cruise with his family aboard Carnival Conquest when his wife Violet collapsed unconscious after suffering a cardiac event.

Butler claimed Carnival crew members did nothing to assist Violet, and delayed calling medical personnel. Violet was eventually taken to the ship's medical center, which had no doctor on duty and no adequate medical equipment, according to Butler's federal complaint.

Although a nurse resuscitated Violet after a while and had her airlifted into a Miami hospital, Violet, who was deprived of oxygen, suffered irreversible brain damage and died after 16 days on life support.

Butler claimed Carnival's failure to give his wife reasonable assistance, promptly call for medical personnel and provide its crew members with adequate training, equipment and means of communication amounted to negligence under the Death on the High Seas Act.

In ruling on Carnival's motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz agreed that Carnival had no duty to provide its passengers with medical care. And although Butler said his claims turned on non-medical crew members' failure to render reasonable care, many of the claims are about the provision of medical care, according to the Oct. 24 ruling.

For instance, the alleged failure to attempt resuscitation clearly qualifies as a medical care claim, even when applied to non-medical crew members, Seitz noted.

Carnival was also not obligated to provide medical equipment on its ship, therefore Butler cannot pursue a claim related to an allegedly nonfunctional defibrillator, the ruling states.

Since the claims for failure to train crewmembers about emergency procedures boil down to medical emergency protocol, those claims must also be dismissed, the court concluded.

Seitz found, however, that Carnival may be liable for the crew's failure to seek immediate medical assistance for Butler's wife, which is different from a duty to provide medical care.

She said Butler may re-plead his claim for punitive damages to show what Carnival could have done to assist his wife and prove that its failure to act was willful.

Butler filed a fourth amended complaint Thursday.

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