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Grazette v. Magical Cruise Company Ltd.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

October 11, 2019



          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Brevard County, Tonya B. Rainwater, Judge.

          Paul B. Feltman, of Alvarez, Feltman & Da Silva, PL, Coral Gables, for Appellant.

          Richard J. McAlpin and Kassandra Doyle Taylor, of McAlpin Conroy, P.A., Miami, for Appellee.


         Onica Grazette ("Grazette") appeals the final summary judgment entered in favor of Magical Cruise Company Limited, d/b/a Disney Cruise Line ("Disney"), based on Disney's statute of limitations defense. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment as to one aspect of Grazette's claim but otherwise affirm.

         Grazette worked aboard Disney's cruise ships as a custodial hostess from October 2011 through January 2015. During this time, she worked four contracts and was medically debarked during her fifth. Two months into her first contract, aboard the Disney Wonder, Grazette bent over to lift heavy luggage and felt a "pop" in her lower back. She experienced an immediate sharp pain, but the pain went away after she sat down for a few minutes. She was able to finish out the rest of her shift and did not report the incident or go to the medical center.

         Over the next two weeks, Grazette continuously worked, pain-free, until December 29, 2011, when she went to the ship's medical center and told the doctor that she bent over while vacuuming and could not stand upright afterward. She informed the doctor about the pop in her back two weeks prior, and the doctor diagnosed her with mechanical back pain in the coccyx region. She was debarked, and her contract aboard the Disney Wonder ended shortly thereafter. After debarking, she went home to Trinidad and received and completed treatment. Grazette said she was pain-free at that time and thought she could return to work without any restrictions.

         During her second, third, and fourth contracts, Grazette went to the ships' medical centers on numerous occasions, sometimes for back pain and other times for medical issues unrelated to back pain. On November 22, 2014, during her fifth contract, Grazette went to the medical center after she fell and hit her back against a ladder by her bunk bed. She had multiple follow up visits and went shoreside for an MRI on January 17, 2015, which revealed that she had an L5-S1 disc herniation. She was medically debarked on January 20, 2015, and never worked onboard a Disney ship again.

         When Grazette returned home in January 2015, she received chiropractic treatment until September 2015, when Disney referred her to a neurosurgeon where she underwent a conservative treatment plan. This plan included rest, medication, physical therapy, and injections. By December 2016, she still had not reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI").

         In October 2016, two months prior to her final visit with the neurosurgeon, Grazette filed a four-count complaint against Disney, asserting: (1) Jones Act negligence; (2) unseaworthiness; (3) failure to provide maintenance and cure; and (4) failure to provide prompt, proper, and adequate medical treatment. She alleged that, while working on the Disney Wonder, she felt pain in her lower back but was continuously sent back to work in the same job with the same job requirements and without a proper diagnosis or treatment, and that she did not receive a proper diagnosis until January 17, 2015.

         Since Grazette alleged that her injuries accrued while she was working on the Disney Wonder, but the complaint was not filed until October 2016, Disney asserted in its answer that all four claims were thus time-barred by maritime tort law's three-year statute of limitations. After conducting discovery, Disney then moved for summary judgment. In her response in opposition, Grazette argued that there were genuine issues of material fact and that the claims were not time-barred.[1] She argued that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until there was notice of a medical injury and a relationship between the injury and the job, and she asserted that the earliest it began to run would have been January 17, 2015.

         "The statute of limitations for maritime torts is governed by 46 U.S.C. § 30106," which holds that "'a civil action for damages for personal injury or death arising out of a maritime tort must be brought within 3 years after the cause of action arose.'" Pretus v. Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc., 571 F.3d 478, 481 (5th Cir. 2009). "The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104 . . ., adopts the same statute of limitations applicable to suits under the Federal Employees' Liability Act ('FELA'), 45 U.S.C. § 56, which is three years." Id. Here, there is no dispute that the federal maritime law applies and that the statute of limitations is three years. Instead, the dispute is when the causes of action actually accrued.

         Grazette's complaint specifically stated that she was injured aboard the Disney Wonder, on which she had not worked since 2012, and she testified during her deposition that there was a specific incident when she hurt her back in 2011. At the summary judgment hearing, Grazette argued under a continuing tort theory and an aggravation theory that the claim did not accrue until her 2015 diagnosis. Grazette, however, admitted that the incident that started ...

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