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Florida Court Rules No Pain and Suffering for Relatives of Drowned Woman

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that relatives who observed the drowning of a family member had no claim for the negligent infliction of emotional distress under general maritime law because they were outside the zone of danger.
Plaintiffs brought a wrongful death and related claims against a cruise line and snorkel company for the drowning of Lois Gales, Plaintiffs’ mother, during a snorkel trip in December 2006. Gales had drifted away from the snorkeling group because of bad weather and was in distress. One of Gales’ daughters was able to locate Gales and pull her to the boat. Other guests attempted to resuscitate Gales while both of Gales’ daughters watched. These attempts, however, was unsuccessful.
Plaintiffs brought action against both the cruise liner and the snorkeling company seeking, among other things, damages for defendants’ negligent infliction of emotional distress. There are a variety of limiting tests for assessing claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress on the two daughters. The three most important tests are: the physical impact test, the zone of danger test, and the relative bystander test. The court found that plaintiffs satisfied the relative bystander test because “plaintiffs were located near the scene of the accident …the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact upon plaintiffs …and the plaintiffs were closely related to victim.” Plaintiffs, however, had more difficulty satisfying the danger zone test. The precedent is that “those within the zone of danger can recover for fright, and those outside of it cannot.” The Court ruled that, because the daughters were in the safety of a boat, they were outside the danger zone and therefore cannot recover for fright. Plaintiffs’ claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress was therefore dismissed.
The law office of Beard Stacey Trueb & Jacobsen, PLLC believes this case, as well as others like it, unfairly limit damages. Obviously the daughters in this case suffered a great deal. Sometimes, however, the law just does not address all the injuries after such a tragedy.
The lawyers at Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC handle all types of cases involving mariners’ injuries and fatalities while working at sea. Our lawyers have successfully tried and settled cases in states all around the country. If you have been injured while aboard a vessel, you may want to bring a maritime claim. Please contact the law office of Beard Stacey Trueb & Jacobsen for a free consultation at 206.282.3100 or visit our website at

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