Appeals Court Upholds $2.2 Million Award to Injured Gambling Ship Passenger

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make following a serious accident is to not contact a lawyer. In some cases, the negligent party who caused the accident will try and convince the victim that it is unnecessary to speak with an attorney. The negligent party may even make promises to “take care of” the victim’s damages without the need for them to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Golden Isles Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Lowie

Unfortunately, such promises may be nothing more than a delaying tactic. The negligent party may simply be trying to keep the victim from filing a claim until it is too late–i.e., after the statute of limitations has expired.

In a recent decision, Golden Isles Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Lowie, the Georgia Court of Appeals rejected a negligent defendant’s effort to circumvent the limitations period in this manner. The defendant here operates gambling cruises. The plaintiff was described as a “frequent patron” who regularly traveled on one particular boat owned by the defendant.

For several weeks prior to the plaintiff’s accident, there was a malfunctioning piece of equipment on the boat. This created a situation in which the boat’s crew needed to remove a hatch covering part of the floor. The boat’s captain ordered the crew to “put some chairs around it,” as well as to have someone keep personal watch so that nobody would accidentally fall through the hatch.

Unfortunately, when the plaintiff boarded the boat that evening, he fell down the hatch. At the time there was no crewmember on duty as the captain instructed, nor any hazard markings aside from the chairs, which were indistinguishable from the chairs normally used by patrons. The plaintiff fell approximately 10 feet and sustained a “head injury and compression fractures of multiple vertebrae,” according to court records. As a result, the plaintiff required multiple surgeries and continues to suffer from chronic pain syndrome.

In the months following the accident, an insurance adjuster representing the defendant was in contact with the plaintiff. It turned out the adjuster had a longstanding personal friendship with the plaintiff and his spouse. During this time, the adjuster insisted he would “take real good care” of the plaintiff, and that there was “no need to go out and get an attorney.”

That turned out not to be the case. The plaintiff only received $1,800 and was told he could not seek additional compensation because the one-year limitations period for filing a lawsuit had expired. The plaintiff proceeded to file a lawsuit anyway. The judge determined the plaintiff “actually relied on representations” made by the adjuster in delaying his decision to file a lawsuit. The defendant was therefore “estopped” from relying on the normal one-year limitations period applicable to these types of personal injury claims.

A jury ultimately awarded the plaintiff $2,236,850.28 in damages. The defendant appealed. But in an April 29, 2019, decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. Among other issues, the appeals court agreed with the trial judge that the defendant’s own actions meant it could not rely on the one-year limitations period to bar the plaintiff’s lawsuit.