Tourism & Cruises

Carnival is not responsible for overboard death of 33-year-old Texas mother, judge finds

The Carnival Liberty arrives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2005.
The Carnival Liberty arrives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2005. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival is not responsible for the death of Samantha Broberg, a 33-year-old mother of four from Texas who went overboard on one of its 2016 cruises, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Broberg boarded the Carnival Liberty cruise ship on May 12, 2016, in Galveston, Texas, with two girlfriends for a four-day Caribbean sailing. After just 13 hours on the ship, Broberg stepped on a lounge chair next to the ship’s railing on Deck 10, sat on the railing and fell into the water.

The incident occurred at 2:04 a.m. on May 13. The crew did not detect that she had gone overboard until 15 hours later, when they reviewed the ship’s security camera footage. Her body was never found.

Broberg’s widower, Karl, sued Carnival last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Miami, saying that the cruise line did not provide reasonable care in protecting his wife. The lawsuit alleges that Carnival over-served her alcoholic drinks — at least seven double vodka-and-sodas and two beers — even after she was visibly intoxicated.

He also alleged that Carnival violated a 2010 federal law, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, that calls on ships to install automatic overboard detection technology. The judge dismissed that claim prior to trial.

To show that the cruise line was negligent, lawyers for Broberg had to prove that Carnival should have reasonably noticed she was in danger. Lawyers for Broberg presented photos and videos of her that they said showed she was intoxicated, along with receipts for her drinks.

An attorney for Carnival argued that the cruise line did not know Broberg was dangerously intoxicated and therefore continued to serve her drinks. Carnival did not dispute the amount of alchohol she was served or the fact that she fell, not jumped, off the ship.

“This is someone who was a functioning alcoholic,” said Curtis Mase, Carnival’s attorney. “Someone who goes totally off the wagon bears responsibility. Just because she’d been drinking all day doesn’t make you a danger to yourself.”

Federal judge Federico Moreno called the case “very sad.” But, he said, “Carnival cannot be held responsible for what it did not know.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Carnival said, “This decision acknowledges the facts of this case. Our thoughts remain with the Broberg family and out of respect, we will have no further comment.”

It was the second case in recent weeks in which a cruise line was absolved of legal responsibility in an overboard incident. Last month a federal jury found Royal Caribbean was not responsible for the 2016 overboard death of 22-year-old Nathan Skokan on its Independence of the Seas cruise ship. In that case, three people witnessed Skokan go overboard and alerted the ship’s crew immediately. Documents uncovered at the trial show that Royal Caribbean skipped the first step in the line’s own man overboard protocol — “release life buoys with smoke signal and light and scan for the person” — and did not launch rescue boats to search for Skokan until two hours after he went overboard.

Despite the tragic nature of overboard incidents, they are statistically rare. In 2018, the 23 people who went overboard represented less than .000085 percent of the 27 million-plus people who took a cruise. Only three of those were found alive.

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.