9-Year-Old Boy Needed Emergency Brain Surgery After Being Injured in Game on Royal Caribbean Ship, Family Says

Leo Tao's family is suing the cruise line. It says it sympathizes with his injury but says it could have happened anywhere.

By Willard Shepard
|  Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013  |  Updated 3:18 AM EDT
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It was supposed to be a fun family cruise, but Desiree Tu says her family had to leave a Royal Caribbean ship so her 9-year-old son could be rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery. She and family attorney Spencer Aronfeld spoke about what happened to Leo Tao. Cynthia Martinez, the director of global corporate communications for Royal Caribbean Ltd., issued a statement.

It was supposed to be a fun family cruise, but Desiree Tu says her family had to leave a Royal Caribbean ship so her 9-year-old son could be rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery. She and family attorney Spencer Aronfeld spoke about what happened to Leo Tao. Cynthia Martinez, the director of global corporate communications for Royal Caribbean Ltd., issued a statement.

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It was supposed to be a fun family cruise, but Desiree Tu says her family had to leave a Royal Caribbean ship so her 9-year-old son could be rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery.

The family says it did something that many families do at sea, as it took Leo Tao to the ship’s entertainment zone for kids. But what happened there has forever changed him, the family says.

Tu said the family set sail out of PortMiami on the Monarch of the Seas, and they trusted Royal Caribbean to organize safe activities for their son when they took him to the area for kids on the vessel.

But after Leo ended up having emergency brain surgery in Nassau, the family is now suing Royal Caribbean in federal court, claiming a game that was organized on the vessel for kids to play and supervised by the cruise line staff caused his injury.

Two cruise staff members threw balls trying to hit the children from the side, as the kids ran to avoid them, Tu said.

Leo – who is now recovering – collided with another child and struck his head on a hard surface, according to the lawsuit.

“He was projectile vomiting and thank God he was still in port,” family attorney Spencer Aronfeld said.

He added, “We believe that it was unreasonably dangerous to put this child in this situation.”

The cruise line said it sympathizes with the child's injury but said it could have happened anywhere.

“We regret that a young guest that sailed onboard Monarch of the Seas was injured. A vacation is supposed to be filled with fun, rejuvenation and relaxation, and it is regrettable that this family's vacation was interrupted by their son's injury,” said Cynthia Martinez, the director of global corporate communications for Royal Caribbean Ltd., in a statement. “However, Royal Caribbean believes that while this unfortunate incident happened on board a cruise ship, it is not unique to a cruise ship, and could happen at any school, playground, or daycare.”

The cruise line denied any wrongdoing and said it is not at fault in any way because of what happened on the ship.

Medical reports NBC 6 examined indicated that Leo's test done at Miami Children's Hospital showed some dysfunction in one area of his brain.

Tu said she is concerned about the aftereffects for her son, which she said could last his entire life because had to have surgery on his head.

“For sure I think the cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean, should be responsible for this thing done to my kid,” she said.

Tu said she is worried her son may have epileptic-type seizures.

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