Court rules lawsuit over slain teen tourist should be heard
Published: September 7, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The family of the teenage tourist killed in a shooting at Coki Point two years ago won an appeal this week to have their lawsuit against a cruise line heard in federal court.
Last year, the family of Liz Marie Peréz Chaparro filed a civil lawsuit against Carnival Corporation for the wrongful death of their daughter and for not warning the family about the high level of crime on St. Thomas. The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Florida seeking damages in excess of $75,000.
The Florida court dismissed the case in August 2011, ruling that the Chaparros' lawsuit failed to state a claim for negligence. The Chaparro family appealed the dismissal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday, the appellate court found the lawsuit did have a claim based on sufficient facts and reversed the Florida court's dismissal, sending the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.
On the morning of July 12, 2010, gunfire broke out during a burial service at Coki Point cemetery, leaving St. Thomas resident Shaheel Joseph, 18, and 14-year-old Liz Marie dead. The area was crowded with mourners and tourists, including Liz Marie and her family, who were traveling onboard the Carnival Victory. The family, from Puerto Rico, was celebrating their daughter's quinceañera, or 15th birthday, as well as the parents' 23rd wedding anniversary. Liz Marie and her family were riding in a safari taxi leaving Coki Point beach and Coral World when the mid-morning gunfire broke out. Liz Marie was shot once in the side and was rushed to Schneider Hospital but died shortly after.
In April 2011, a V.I. Superior Court jury convicted Steve Tyson, 22, of killing Joseph and Liz Marie.
Tyson currently is serving two life sentences for the murders. Liz Marie's father, Ceferino Peréz; mother, Aida Esther Chaparro; and 21-year-old brother, Amilkar Peréz Chaparro are plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit against Carnival.
The complaint says the defendant, Carnival Corporation, has a duty to warn passengers of any danger known to exist in any port of call. According to court documents, on the family's first night of the cruise, a Carnival employee encouraged the family to purchase a shore excursion to visit Coral World and Coki Point beach while on St. Thomas.
"Coki Beach is well known as a location for drug sales, thefts, and gang violence. There have been numerous reported violent crimes at Coki Beach. Carnival was well aware of these violent crimes," the family's complaint said. The family did not purchase a shore excursion but traveled to Coki Point on their own, according to their complaint.
After the shooting, Carnival and other cruise lines stopped selling shore excursions to Coki Point. The lawsuit characterizes the burial service as a gang funeral conducted for a gang member who had been shot to death by a rival gang member the previous week.
The service at Coki Point cemetery was for Joseph Ferrari, 23, who was shot about noon in front of Tutu Park Mall on June 29, 2010.
The Perez family's lawsuit cites local news reports about the high number of homicides in the territory in 2009 and 2010. It also quotes testimony of V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer at a Senate hearing three months prior to the Coki Point shooting acknowledging that many of the territory's killings were the result of turf wars and revenge killings.
"Defendant knew or should have known that St. Thomas was experiencing a crime wave and that homicides in the Virgin Islands were at record highs," the complaint said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.