Family sues Carnival Cruise Line after man dies of 'major heart attack' on board ship

Carnival Cruise Line is being sued by the family of a passenger who suffered a heart attack and died after crew members allegedly refused to let him off the ship to seek medical attention.

Jeffrey Eisenman was vacationing on the Carnival Sunshine with his wife, Linda, daughter, Julie, and son, Ryan, when he experienced what the ship’s doctor diagnosed as a “major heart attack” on December 3, 2018, according to the Miami Herald.

Jeffrey Eisenman and his wife, Linda, enjoying their holiday aboard the Carnival Sunshine before the passenger's fatal heart attack. (Photo: Courtesy of Ira Leesfield)
Jeffrey Eisenman and his wife, Linda, enjoying their holiday aboard the Carnival Sunshine before the passenger's fatal heart attack. (Photo: Courtesy of Ira Leesfield)

Eisenman reportedly started vomiting and feeling pain in his left arm and chest while the ship was docked in Grand Turk, an island in Turks and Caicos. Cruise ship doctors were reportedly ill-equipped to deal with the man’s condition.

But instead of letting Eisenman off the ship to seek medical treatment, Carnival employees told him he’d have to be flown to Miami for treatment, as Grand Turk’s hospital has no cardiac unit. Despite the fact that the family had purchased evacuation insurance for just such an emergency, the man was allegedly held on the ship.

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 3, the Carnival Sunshine departed Grand Turk and set sail toward its next port in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with the Eisenmans aboard. But the next day, while en route, the 65-year-old passenger passed away, according to CBS Miami.

But the Eisenmans’ nightmare didn’t end there. Once the cruise ship docked in San Juan, employees still wouldn’t let the family take their relative’s body off the ship, according to the lawsuit. They allegedly said they couldn’t guarantee that Eisenman’s body would be transported home properly from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

So the Carnival Sunshine sailed for five more days with Eisenman’s body on board before arriving back in Cape Canaveral, Fla., CBS Miami reported.

On Tuesday, the Eisenbergs filed suit against Carnival Cruise Line, accusing the Carnival Sunshine crew of negligence and infliction of intentional emotional distress. Ira Leesfield, the Eisenman family’s laywer, told Yahoo Lifestyle the ordeal could have been avoided with proper preparation.

He said that of the tens of millions of cruise ship passengers per year, “someone is going to get sick, and [cruise lines] have to have a protocol other than, ‘We have to stay on schedule.’” He added that the cruise industry in general “has got to be more prepared and have a greater sensitivity to the wellbeing of its passengers.”

But Carnival Cruise Line tells a different version of the story, in which they alleged they cooperated with the Eisenman family to make medical decisions. In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, a Carnival spokesperson wrote:

“We are very sorry for the Eisenman family’s loss, but the scenario that is alleged in the lawsuit is not accurate. Our onboard medical team followed all proper procedures to attend to a guest who became critically ill very quickly, including liaising with the local hospital which was not equipped to handle his condition. Mr. Eisenman’s treatment plan and keeping him on the ship was formulated in consultation with his family.”

The family’s lawsuit plans to challenge that. “Inexplicably, all of [the family’s] requests and pleas for help went unanswered,” the suit reads. “The Carnival Sunshine left Grand Turk with Jeffrey Eisenman and his family confined onboard against their will, helpless against the willful inhumane conduct of Carnival in holding a critically ill man imprisoned in an unequipped medical center.”

Leesfield said the cruise ship crew “made a very bad call” that defies the International Cruise Line Passenger Bill of Rights. It states that passengers have “the right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided onboard, subject only to the [crew’s] concern for passenger safety and security and customs and immigration requirements of the port.”

He said the tragedy also happened at one of the worst times of the year. “Sunday is Father's Day — their first Father's Day without him,” he said. “Their decision was a death sentence.”

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