Jim Keskeny, 66, signed up for what he thought would be an unforgettable cruise with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a retirement present. Keskeny would indeed never forget the trip, but not with fondness; Keskeny was treated with appalling discrimination and was thrown off the cruise with the result of being left stranded on an island to find his own way home to Detroit, Michigan.
Keskeny took all the precautions he thought he would need to have a perfect 10 day cruise vacation of the East Caribbean. He paid $4,000 for his ticket to ensure he would even have a bigger stateroom that would accommodate his wheelchair and even paid extra to have the services of a butler since he would be traveling alone. He was assured he would have all the extra assistance he needed before he booked his trip. Keskeny was a seasoned traveler, having been on several previous vacations through the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation.
As he checked in, everyone was aware he was a wheelchair user and cruise line officials were aware he had paid for extra assistance if needed. As the ship left port on Valentine’s Day, the trip quickly turned into a nightmare. The day after the ship left port, the butler refused to assist Keskeny get his wheelchair over a non-ADA compliant lip to get into the bathroom of his stateroom. Unfortunately, this was only the first of a shocking list of discrimination and general intolerance to Keskeny’s needs.
After lunch that day, the manager of the tour company and two cruise line officials came to his stateroom to “talk.” After refusing to even sit down in his room so that Keskeny could speak with them at eye level, they informed him that they had no intention of even “touching his body.” Should Keskeny ask them to do so or lift him, he would be made to disembark the ship.
On the third day of the trip, Keskeny slipped off the toilet in his bathroom. After cruise line employees refused to assist him, he was assisted back to his chair by fellow passengers. After a $200 trip to the ship’s infirmary, Keskney was dropped off in the port of Quadalupe, taken to the airport, and left to fend for himself and find his own way home.
He spent a total of $1500.00 to get back home and endured dangerous stopovers in Haiti with a compromised immune system from the multiple sclerosis and none of the required vaccinations to be in such areas. After an overnight layover in Miami at a hotel paid at his own expense, Keskeny finally returned home to Detroit, scared at the possibility of being exposed to the diseases running rampant in Haiti since the earthquake.
Upon returning home, Keskeny began searching for a lawyer. Surely he would be able to recover extensive damages after being stranded at an island airport and left to find his own way home. The actions of the cruise line would horrify an able-bodied passenger, let alone a 66 year old man that uses a wheelchair and has multiple sclerosis. Keskney met Richard Bernstein, a blind attorney, that offered to represent Keskney pro bono.
Unfortunately, the event isn’t an open and shut case as one would think. At check-in, passengers are required to sign a ticket contract. This contract bends the conditions of resolving disputes between the cruise line and passengers. Bernstein was forced to go to Miami, Flordia for litigation of the case as the contract demanded. In addition, passengers that sign the contract agree to submit to binding arbitration (a 3rd party arbitrator that reviews the case and hands down a binding decision) making it impossible to bring the case into the court system.
The contract also prevents Bernstein from recovering any of his expenses to travel to Miami and any related court costs paid to represent Keskney. Bernstein will be unable to recover any punitive damages for the treatment Keskney endured. He said Keskney would be fortunate to recover the cost of his ticket and the money he paid to return to home after being stranded on Quadalupe island.