By Tom Hals
Feb 15 After four days on a crippled cruise ship
with overflowing toilets, stifling heat and hours-long waits for
food, at least one passenger from the Carnival Triumph is
seeking legal revenge.
But lawyers familiar with cruise ship lawsuits suggest angry
passengers should think twice before rushing to the courts.
Unless passengers suffered major injuries or other losses due to
negligence by the cruise operator, they would be better off
accepting compensation from Carnival Corp, they said.
The Carnival Triumph was towed into port in Mobile, Alabama,
late on Thursday, giving disembarking passengers an opportunity
to speak out about their ordeal.
Within hours, Cassie Terry, of Brazoria County, Texas, filed
a lawsuit in federal court in Miami describing the ship as "a
floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell" and
seeking damages from Carnival Corp.
As the ship listed as it was being towed, Terry was in
constant fear of contracting serious illness from raw sewage
spilling from non-functioning toilets. She had to wade through
human feces to reach food lines that were hours long, only to
receive spoiled rations, according to the lawsuit.
But Terry's account and those of other passengers do not
describe the type of injuries or harm that could lead to a
successful lawsuit, according to attorneys who specialize in
suing cruise companies.
Conditions might have been disgusting "but get over it,"
said Miriam Lebental, an attorney from San Pedro, California,
who specializes in cruise ship injuries.
Like other attorneys that pursue cruise companies, she said
she would not be interested in taking a case unless it involved
a major injury and negligence, such as a passenger breaking
their neck during a fall down an unlit stairwell.
There have been no such reports from the Triumph.
Terry declined to comment. Her attorney, Brenton Allison of
Gilman & Allison in Pearland, Texas, said he understood that
other attorney's were skeptical about taking cases from
passengers, but his client was nauseated and running a fever.
"I don't know what may manifest from her exposure to those
conditions," he said, adding that Terry would decline the
Carnival has offered passengers $500, reimbursed their
transportation and many onboard costs and given them a credit
toward a future cruise equal to the amount they paid for the
Jim Walker, a premier lawyer for cruise passengers, said
passengers would be wise to take the money.
"It's more than any attorney could get for them," said
Walker, a partner at Walker & O'Neill in South Miami, Florida.
The cruise industry has become adept at using tickets, which
are binding contracts, to limit their liability and define how a
passenger can sue the cruise company, the lawyers said.
These tickets are "the most onerous one-sided terms and
conditions," said Walker. "It's difficult to sue them."
For example, the tickets for the Costa Concordia, which hit
rocks off the coast of Italy in January 2012 and killed 32,
required passengers to sue in Italy.
Several cases brought in Miami federal court by Concordia
passengers were dismissed for that reason.
In the case of the Triumph, the tickets likely contain
similar language that require that lawsuits be brought in
federal court in Miami, regardless of where the passenger lives.
The cruise industry has said that such "forum selection"
clauses in cruise tickets help keep down costs for cruise
operators by corralling all litigation in one court.
Walker said it gives the cruise industry leverage.
"It's like built-in home court advantage for the Miami
Heat," he added.
Carnival, which is the parent company to both the Triumph
and the Concordia, did not immediately respond to a request for
Cruise companies have also been able to limit their
liability for accidents that occur during shore excursions or
for the negligence of ship staff.
That is because the cruise companies use outside companies
to handle activities such as parasailing, even when the staff
leading the excursions wear shirts or hats bearing the insignia
of the cruise company.
Cruise tickets often state that harm caused during
excursions must be brought against the company that provided the
Many staff doctors or masseuses are independent contractors
and passengers must sue them, not the cruise line, and staff
often do not have insurance and frequently are not Americans.
"If the ship doctor kills you, your family has to chase the
doctor in South Africa or the Middle East or India, which is
exceedingly difficult, if not impossible," Walker added.