Court Bars Statute of Limitations Defense Because of Misrepresentations

By Jim Sams | May 2, 2019

The owner of Golden Isles Cruise Lines promised to “take real good care” of Robert Bruce Lowie, but he didn’t.

After Georgia’s one-year statute of limitations to file a tort claim passed, Golden Isles stopped paying Lowie’s medical bills, even though he was still undergoing treatment for a head injury and multiple fractured vertebrae after falling 10 feet through an open hatch on the Emerald Princess gambling boat.

Lowie finally filed suit. On Monday, the 2nd Division of the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a $2,236,850.28 jury verdict against Golden Isles. The appellate panel found that the one-year statute of limitations did not apply because Lowie had depended on the claims adjuster’s representations that his medical bills would be paid.

Lowie was injured on Dec. 16, 2014. Emerald Princess crew members had removed the cover of a hatch that provided access to the engine room to calibrate equipment before setting sail. The ship’s captain had directed a sailor to stand watch by the hatch until it could be opened, but the crew member left his post.

Lowie boarded the ship at 6 p.m. and walked toward the cashier’s cage at the front of the boat.He fell through the hatch, which measured 22 inches by 22 inches.

Stuart Platt, a claims adjuster for Golden Isles, communicated with Lowie and his wife, Concettina, for several months after the fall. The owner of Golden Isles, Louis N. Dyer Jr., told Mrs. Lowie that he had told Platt that he had been friends of the Lowies for 25 to 30 years and that Platt would “take really good care” of them. He said he had seen a video of Lowie falling through the hole and admitted that Golden Isles has been negligent, according to the Court of Appeals’ opinion.

Platt told Mrs. Lowie that there was “no need to go out and get an attorney.” He told her to go through Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield for medical treatment and that Golden Isles would reimburse the insurers once a settlement was made, according to the opinion.

Platt asked Mrs. Lowie if the couple was ready to settle the claim. She told him that her husband was still undergoing treatment and hoped to get a second doctor’s opinion. “He says, ‘well, whatever y’all want to do, wherever y’all want to go, we’ll pay for it. We’ll take care of it,’ Mrs. Lowie testified.

On Dec. 2016, 2015, exactly one year after Lowie’s fall, Dyer told the Lowies that Golden Isle would pay no further medical bills because the one-year statute of limitations had lapsed. Nevertheless, Robert Lowie filed suit three months later.

Golden Isles filed a motion to dismiss the suit because the statute of limitations has passed, but the trial court denied the motion, finding that the Lowie had depended on Dyer’s representations to his detriment. A Glynn County jury assigned 100% of the fault for the accident to Golden Isle and awarded damages. The trial court did dismiss a second loss of consortium claim filed by Mrs. Lowie.

Golden Isle appealed. The appellate court rejected the company’s contention that the court had relied on privileged communications in making its decision and found no reason to overturn the jury’s verdict.

“The record supports the trial court’s findings that Platt told the Lowies that Golden Isles ‘would take care of them’ and that there was no need to hire counsel, and that Lowie relied to his detriment on representations made by Golden Isles and/or its agents when deciding not to hire an attorney or file suit,” the opinion states.

The case is Golden Isles Cruise Lines v. Lowie, A19A0291.

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