Kreindler Settles Claim in Tragic Cancun High School Snorkeling Trip
Kreindler represented the family of a Dallas high school senior following her tragic death while on a student-based snorkeling trip in Cancun, Mexico. The firm also represented her friend who nearly drowned after the boat they were on began sinking. Our client was a National Honors Society student celebrating her success in high school and preparing for college in the Fall. Her parents, Vietnamese immigrants, grew up in South Vietnam, survived the horrors of the Vietnam war, lived for years in a refugee camp in Malaysia, and eventually made it to the United States where they achieved the American Dream — opening a successful business, owning a home and raising a family in suburban Dallas, Texas.
To celebrate her high school graduation, our client and her high school friend purchased a tour package to Cancun, Mexico, organized and sold by StudentCity.com, a Massachusetts-based tour company specializing in selling tours to graduating high school seniors and college students. The package included a snorkeling cruise sold by StudentCity but operated by an independently-owned company that provided the boat, equipment, and crew for the cruise. During the cruise, the captain steered the boat into a coral reef, causing it to partially sink. In the chaos that ensued, our client and her friend jumped off the boat. Our client became injured and drowned. Her friend nearly drowned but survived.
In its marketing literature, StudentCity touted its ability to ensure student safety by providing trained staff to supervise all events and cruises it arranged, sponsored, and sold to student participants.
Even with 120 students on the boat, StudentCity neglected to provide a single supervisory staff member on the vessel.
The boat’s crew and captain abandoned the boat after it began to sink, leaving approximately 120 students to fend for themselves without any guidance on how to safely respond to the emergency. Lisa made the tragic choice of jumping into the water where she drowned under a private boat that had arrived to provide assistance.
In the Media
Because personal jurisdiction in the United States could not be obtained over the boat owner and operator, Kreindler attorneys brought a lawsuit against StudentCity in Massachusetts Federal District Court.
The law in nearly all jurisdictions is that a tour operator like StudentCity is not liable for the negligent conduct of third-party excursion operators and had no common law duty to provide staff to supervise the excursion. In every similar case, StudentCity, and other tour operators, have successfully obtained dismissal of actions based upon the absence of a duty to provide for the safety of students injured at events sponsored and arranged by the tour operator and taking place at venues or on vessels owned and operated by independent third-parties.
The Kreindler lawyers recognized this law and took a different tack. They asserted that StudentCity directed its promotional and marketing materials at parents to lessen their concern about their teenage children’s safety during a trip to Mexico. StudentCity repeatedly assured parents that their children were in safe hands because it provided trained staff to supervise all events and excursions it sponsored and arranged.
StudentCity filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a dismissal on the ground that it had no duty to provide for safety and supervision on the cruise. After taking numerous depositions of StudentCity’s employees and obtaining, through discovery, internal StudentCity policies and practices, Kreindler gathered the necessary facts establishing that StudentCity had voluntarily assumed a duty to provide for the safety of the student on the cruise and defeated StudentCity’s motion for summary judgment.
This ruling was groundbreaking as very few courts have considered or ruled upon the specific assumption of duty argument raised and proven by Kreindler’s lawyers.
The Kreindler firm faced another formidable obstacle: the victim had signed an online customer agreement releasing negligence claims against StudentCity and mandating that any claim for personal injury be submitted to binding arbitration. These provisions are valid under Massachusetts law.
Because the right to recover for wrongful death damages belonged to the beneficiaries, the decedent’s agreement releasing liability and mandating arbitration was not binding on them.
To preserve the wrongful death action brought by our client’s estate, Kreindler lawyers argued the beneficiaries of the estate were not bound by an agreement signed by the victim while she was alive. Kreindler argued that because the right to recover for wrongful death damages belonged to the beneficiaries, the decedent’s agreement releasing liability and mandating arbitration was not binding on them. On an issue never before decided in Massachusetts, the District Court judge agreed with Kreindler’s lawyers and denied StudentCity’s motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the action.
The legal obstacles did not end in the trial court. When ruling that a duty existed, the District Court dismissed all claims because the evidence was insufficient to support a rational jury verdict that StudentCity’s failure to provide staff to supervise the snorkeling cruise proximately caused Lisa’s death. Kreindler lawyers appealed this ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that because the issue of proximate causation was not raised by StudentCity in its summary judgment motion and the discovery had previously been limited to the issue of duty, the judge could not rely on causation as a basis for dismissal. The Court of Appeals agreed and reinstated the wrongful death claim. Chung v. StudentCity.com., 854 F.3d 97 (1st Cir. 2017).
As a result of Kreindler’s innovative and dogged pursuit of justice on behalf of our client’s family and her injured friend, attorneys for Student City finally agreed to settle the victims’ claims before any trial commenced.
Kreindler’s Experience with Travel & Tourism Cases
Kreindler has also been successful in bringing the claims of foreign families and international accident victims before the courts in the United States despite defendants’ efforts to transfer cases to less favorable jurisdictions in other countries.
Our international aviation accident lawyers are experts in the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention, which govern international air accident litigation. These conventions have specific time limits (different from the statutes of limitations governing other personal injury and wrongful death claims based on state or federal laws) as well as other distinctive provisions that can significantly affect your interests.
Our experience representing families injured in countries across the globe include:
- Costa Concordia cruise ship accident
- StudentCity catamaran accident
- American tourists killed in Australian plane crash
If you have been involved in an accident that occurred during part of a cross border or an international itinerary, whether the accident occurred in the United States or not, we recommend you seek legal counsel promptly to learn about your rights overseas.
Call on Our Experience
Kreindler’s experience covers not only accidents in travel and tourism but air crashes, boating disasters, recreational vehicle mishaps, as well as mass tort, product injury, and complex personal injury. Kreindler is one of the largest and most distinguished aviation accident law firms in the world. Since 1950, our attorneys have served as lead counsel in nearly every major commercial aviation disaster litigation. Our staff of attorneys includes four commercially licensed pilots and one former helicopter maintenance specialist (who is also a graduate of the NTSB Accident Investigation Course). Our partners have authored numerous highly acclaimed books, articles, and treatises on aviation litigation.
We wrote the book
Kreindler has literally written the book on aviation accident law. Our partners have authored numerous highly acclaimed books, articles and treatises, including the leading treatise in the aviation litigation field, Aviation Accident Law.