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A minor who was allegedly given alcohol by a group of fellow passengers on a cruise, then gang raped, can pursue her negligence claims against the cruise line, says a federal appeals court, in a strongly worded ruling that reverses a lower court’s decision.
“K.T.”, who was then a minor, embarked on a seven-day cruise with Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in December 2015 with her two sisters and grandparents, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in K.T. v. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
K.T. alleged that on the first night of the cruise, a group of nearly a dozen adult male passengers bought her multiple alcoholic beverages for her in a public lounge and other public areas of the ship, plied her with enough alcohol to the point where she became highly intoxicated, then steered her to a cabin where they “brutally assaulted and gang raped her,” according to the ruling.
K.T. filed suit against the Miami-based cruise line in U.S. District Court in Miami on charges including negligence, which dismissed the case on the basis that she had failed to state a claim.
The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. “The district court found that K.T.’s negligence claims against Royal Caribbean failed because they did not sufficiently allege that Royal Caribbean breached its duty of care or that any breach proximately caused her injuries,” said the ruling, adding, “we conclude otherwise.”
“K.T. has sufficiently alleged that she suffered actual harm,” said the ruling. “The scope of Royal Caribbean’s duty to protect its passengers is informed, if not defined, by its knowledge of the dangers they face on board. And it allegedly knew a lot,” said the ruling.
Royal Caribbean allegedly had experienced sexual crimes on board its vessels, had actual knowledge of minors being served alcohol, and knew that its passengers’ high risk of crime and injury aboard vessels was enhanced by the sale of “copious” quantities of alcohol on its vessels, said the ruling.
These allegations were foreseeable and “imposed on Royal Caribbean and its crew a duty of ordinary reasonable care, which included the duty to regulate the behavior of its passengers, especially where minors are involved,” said the ruling.
“In sum, the complaint has sufficiently alleged that because Royal Caribbean’s crewmembers did nothing to prevent the large group of men from plying K.T. with enough alcohol to incapacitate her and did nothing to stop those men from leading her away to a private cabin, Royal Caribbean breached the duty of ordinary care it owed her.
“And it is self-evident from the allegations of the complaint but for Royal Caribbean’s breach of its duties of care to K.T. she would not have been brutalized and raped.”
If the complaint’s allegations are true, “Royal Caribbean’s approach to protecting passengers from being sexually assaulted and raped could be improved.
“One of the purposes of tort law is to spur along such improvements,” said the ruling, in reinstating the litigation and remanding it for further proceedings.
A concurring opinion states that in addition to K.T.’s allegations, publicly available data “reinforces the allegations in the complaint that Royal Caribbean knew or should have known about the danger of sexual assault aboard its cruise ships.”
Royal Caribbean said in a statement, “We aren’t able to comment on pending litigation, but we do take this allegation very seriously. The safety and security of our guests is our top priority.”
K.T.’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reuters) -- A federal court jury awarded $3 million in damages on Monday to a University of Virginia administrator that was found last week to have been defamed by Rolling Stone magazine’s now-retracted story about a gang rape.