Four Expert Witnesses Proffered in Cruise Death Case

Plaintiff sued defendant after his wife fell overboard while on a cruise.  Plaintiff hired four expert witnesses to provide testimony, which was challenged by the defendant.  The court granted one part of the motion, denied two others, and granted in part the last.

Facts:  This case (Broberg v. Carnival Corporation – United States District Court – Southern District of Florida – June 11th, 2018) involves the death of a passenger on board a Carnival cruise ship.  Early one morning, the plaintiff’s wife, who was heavily intoxicated, stepped onto a lounge chair, sat on the railing of the ship, and fell overboard into the Gulf of Mexico.  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant for one count of negligence.  The plaintiff proffered four expert witnesses to assist in his case: John Cocklin (Liquor Liability/Dram Shop Expert Witness), Michael Whitekus    (Medical Toxicology Expert Witness), Ross Klein (Tourism & Travel Industry Expert Witness), and Bernard Pettingill (Economics Expert Witness).  The defendant has filed motions to exclude these expert witnesses.

Discussion:  Cocklin is an alcoholic beverage regulation and dram shop expert witness whose report involves and analysis of the events that took place on the day of the event and why the defendant should have been on notice that the decedent was intoxicated.  The court opines that Cocklin’s report is entirely reliant on other evidence in discovery and does not believe that the finder of fact will benefit from Cocklin’s testimony.

Whitekus is a toxicology and drug safety expert who opines on the level of intoxication and blood alcohol content of the decedent after she consumed 19 alcoholic beverages in a 13 hour period and when she fell overboard.  The defendant argues that Whitekus’s testimony will not be helpful to the factfinder, but the court disagrees, because he offers unique testimony of the decedent during the events that led to her fall overboard.  In addition, this testimony is helpful because the body was never found.

Klein is a sociologist who investigates cruise ship tourism and industry.  In his report, he states that the defendant’s cruise lines has more persons-overboard events than any other cruise line and that alcohol was involved in many of those events.  The defendants argue that Klein’s testimony is speculative, stating that this high number of deaths could be explained by the fact that Carnival has the biggest market share of cruise lines.  The court opines that Klein is qualified to testify in this case, but that his testimony should be limited to his opinions on the foreseeability of falling overboard as it relates to the consumption of alcohol.

Pettingill is an economist who opines on the present value of future loss of support for the decedent.  The defendant takes issue with Pettingill’s methodology, specifically, the calculation of damages based on the decedent’s employment in the family-owned company.  The defendant argues that plaintiff cannot recover these damages because he is the principal owner of the business where the decedent was employed and there is no true loss of income.  The court agrees with the plaintiff on this issue and denies the motion to exclude.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of these four witnesses is granted in part and denied in part.