Several passengers of the Carnival cruise lines recently filed lawsuits asking the company to pay them $5,000 a year for life after an engine fire rendered their cruise ship immobile and left them adrift in the ocean for five days.
According to an article from Reuters, the lawsuits could change the way cruise ships insulate themselves from legal action taken by their passengers. Cruise ships have long enjoyed a legal position with very few consequences.
But that was before the incident that brought on these lawsuits. When the Carnival Triumph broke down in February 2013 due to a fire in the ship’s engine, it was left without power, air conditioning, and working toilets.
Passengers of the cruise described being forced to sleep out on the balconies under makeshift tarps due to the heat, and becoming ill due to the human waste that seeped in to the hallways over the five days stranded at sea.
One plaintiff claims to have experienced frequent panic and anxiety attacks since the time of the cruise, and blames the conditions for a urinary tract infection. Passengers also testified that they stood in line for over two hours for uncooked food.
A federal judge has already ruled that the engine catching fire is proof of negligence on Carnival’s part. Since the incident, Carnival has started a fleet-wide enhancement project which includes the re-wiring of engine rooms and improvements to emergency power features.
In the past, cruise lines like Carnival have protected themselves from passenger lawsuits by requiring ticket buyers to agree to stringent terms that waive the right to a class-action lawsuit. These “contracts of adhesion” could prove to be overreaching – meaning the terms exploit cruise line passengers and do not have proper regard for their legal rights.
A federal judge in South Florida recently finished hearing three weeks of testimony from passengers and is expected to issue a judgment sometime in the next two months.
This lawsuit is from passengers in Miami, FL and is the first to go on trial since the incident. But, according to maritime lawyers, more lawsuits from other passengers are in preparation.
In a statement from the cruise line, they acknowledged that the passengers experienced uncomfortable conditions but said that everyone returned safely, received a full refund, an additional $500 per person, and a free future cruise. According to the spokesperson, the lawsuits are from counsel and plaintiffs who seek an opportunistic “money grab.”
But the personal injury and suffering that passengers are claiming is due to the negligence of the cruise line says otherwise.