Cruise Line Employee Denied Disability Benefits After Slipping on Salad Dressing

A cruise line's server slipped on salad dressing during her very first day on the job. When she submitted her claim, disability benefits were denied.
By: | April 5, 2019

A Norwegian cruise lines food server, Shera Hodgson Williams, slipped on a bit of salad dressing during her very first day on the job. For three years, the back pain that stemmed from this incident plagued her as she worked.

Hodgson Williams finally told Norwegian, and although they denied the incident ever occurred, they were still willing to arrange for Hodgson Williams to receive medical care and treatment.

Then Hodgson Williams underwent back surgery, sparking a long legal debate on coverage. Hodgson Williams claimed Norwegian was responsible for her surgery and sought coverage for the procedure as well as any future care that may be required as a result of the surgery.

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Norwegian denied her request. It said it was not responsible for a procedure that was “not entirely necessary.” Hodgson Williams filed suit. She brought claims of negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure benefits, and disability benefits against her employer. She further sought attorneys’ fees and costs. In all, Hodgson Williams demanded more than $2 million in damages.

An arbitrator sided with Norwegian: “In weighing the evidence in its totality, it is found that the claimant’s back surgery was not medically indicated or necessary … it is significantly noted that the surgery did not seemingly improve or resolve the claimant’s stated symptoms.”

Hodgson Williams, however, was determined. She launched her suit again with new fervor, arguing the arbitrator wrongly dismissed her claims and the award should be vacated. She also claimed the arbitrator did not have the “authority to make the factual findings and legal conclusions she did.”

Norwegian countered, opposing the request and bringing forth a cross motion that sought confirmation of the original ruling. It argued that Hodgson Williams did not lay out any valid reasons for vacating the determination.

Again, the court sided with Norwegian.

Scorecard: Disability benefits and attorneys’ fees will not be awarded to a cruise line server who was allegedly injured on the job.

Takeaway: While taking responsibility for an injured worker is the right thing to do, the injury still needs to be reported in a timely manner and the workers’ comp benefits need to be explicitly reviewed to avoid litigation.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]