March 2, 2020

A Cup of Joe | Drunk Cruise Passenger Falls Over Ship Railing

Vacation Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Samantha’s first cruise was supposed to be a weekend getaway with girlfriends — a few days of fun while her husband stayed home with their four kids….

Wait a minute! That is not how we start CUP OF JOE.  Let’s start again:

March is here and Spring Break is around the corner.  Vacation plans are starting to come together for visits to snowy slopes, to the warm cloudless climes, or to ports unknown. This week, we are going to study a case involving an accident at sea. It is a cautionary tale that begins in Galveston, Texas --  a coastal resort city and port off the southeast coast on Galveston Island. To visit Galveston by car, you’re looking at a minimum 25-hour drive from Manhattan or Syracuse. (If on the way you stop off in New Orleans, well, you will probably just want to stay there and make the return trip back north when you can).

But if you have any interest in heading down to Galveston, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, MindTravel is running their SilentWalk from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at East Beach. This round-trip walk from East Beach to Pleasure Pier is a guided, meditative musical experience for participants who will wear non-amplified headphones, provided by MindTravel, for the duration of the experience. Audiences will enjoy original Live-to-headphones compositions from Murray Hidary while exploring Galveston's Gulf Coast. Participation is free!

But for now, put on your Airpods and play “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic theme song), and read this tale of maritime woe.


On May 12, the cruise ship Carnival Liberty put out to sea.  She is a $500 million dollar vessel operated by Carnival Cruise Line. It is the length of three football fields run by a crew of 1,160 to handle the ship and her 2,974 passengers. She was christened on July 19, 2005. Sam boarded in Galveston with two girlfriends for a four-day Caribbean sailing.  After just 13 hours on the ship, Samantha stepped on a lounge chair next to the ship’s railing on Deck 10. Sam sat on the railing with her back to the water and fell into the Gulf of Mexico. Sam had been drinking. It was 2:04 a.m., and she was never seen again. Sam’s husband sued Carnival. This is the trial:

Carnival Liberty cruise ship at sea.


Q: What time did you get to the ship?

A: Just before 1:00 p.m. It was me, Amy, Brady, and, uh, Sam.

Q: What did you all do after you boarded?

A: We found our cabins and then went right out to the bar. We got something to eat at some point and then we went to the Casino at 8:00 p.m. that evening. Sam was served about ten drinks.

Q: What did you do after 8:00 p.m.?

A: At 10:30 p.m., Amy, Brady, and I went to a comedy show, while Sam stayed in the ship’s casino. We came back at 11:30 p.m. and saw Sam for the last time. Amy and I went back to the cabin.

Q: How did Sam appear to you when you saw her at 11:30?

A: I thought that Sam appeared lit because she was acting animated and socializing with people at the bar. But she was not physically out of control and I did not think that Sam was in danger.

Q: How long had you known Sam?

A: Since childhood. She had a drinking problem in the past.


Q: How did Sam appear to you when you saw her at 11:30?

A: She appeared tipsy, but she was still coherent, not slipping off her chair or anything, and appeared to be having a good time.


Q: Did you see Samantha on the evening she went overboard?

A: I woke up around 12:30 a.m. that evening. I realized my husband was not in the cabin and went to look for him. I found him at the casino bar around 1:00 a.m. with his arm around Samantha. She appeared totally intoxicated and my husband was trying to stabilize her. In fact, I took four photographs of my husband and Sam, which show Sam leaning on her elbow at the bar, cigarette in one hand, with my husband’s arm around her.

Drinks on top of bar counter


Q: Did you see Samantha on the evening she went overboard?

A: I interacted with Samantha for about two minutes that evening while serving her drinks. She appeared sober, spoke clearly, was not swaying or staggering, and had no trouble finding her ship credit card or signing her receipt.

Q: Do bartenders receive any training with respect to identifying drunk patrons?

A: Yes. Carnival servers and bartenders undergo alcohol-service training. They are trained to use a “traffic-light” system for determining whether to continue to serve alcohol. Under this system, they are trained to observe guest behavior and stop serving them if they are falling asleep, swaying and staggering, slurring their speech, or spilling drinks. They are also taught to keep an eye on such a guest and inform security of the situation.


Q: Did you see Samantha on the evening she went overboard?

A: Yes, several times that evening. And I saw her leave the casino around 2:00 a.m. with a man named Israel Cervantez.  I saw them leave the casino and go to an elevator bank leading to the exterior decks. Samantha appeared okay and was walking normally. I did not think she was in danger or needed help.

Q: Did you see Cervantes and Sam on the deck?

A: Yes, on tape. A thermal infrared camera aboard the ship showed that Sam sat on the exterior deck railing and fell overboard at 1:57 a.m. Cervantez never reported her fall. Instead, he returned to the bar for another beer.

View of ocean from cruise ship deck.


The key issue is whether Carnival was on notice that Samantha was intoxicated to the extent that she was in danger.

I find that the photos, taken of Samantha at around 1:36 a.m., showed a tired and somewhat-intoxicated passenger. She was slouched and with tired eyes, but still holding a cigarette in her hand. Sanchez, who last served Samantha at 12:51 p.m., testified that Sam did not appear intoxicated at that time. Emil testified that Sam did not appear intoxicated when he last saw her. I find that to be consistent with the testimony of Sam’s friends, Sarah and Amy, who testified that they thought she was inebriated but appeared “fine” and in control of her faculties at around 11:30 p.m. Accordingly, Carnival was not on notice that Samantha was intoxicated to the point of being in danger.

The Judge entered final judgment in favor of Carnival and entered a cost judgment for $4,403.69 against Sam’s husband in favor of Carnival.  (Yes, the husband had to pay Carnival. They won so they are entitled to recover costs – but not attorney’s fees).


Endnote: The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated the matter and determined that they were unable to charge Cervantez with a crime.  

See you next week.

Here is the case: http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/files/201910388.pdf

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