Can Cruise Passengers Legally Triumph Over Carnival?

Personal Injury Lawyer Casey W. Stevens specializes in maritime law, including cruise ship injuries resulting from property owner negligence claims. We offer free consultations 770-408-6364.

In the wake of the Triumph Cruise Ship fire, some passengers (and future passengers) are wondering what their legal rights are when their vacations take a horrible turn. {Read the details of what happened with the cruise ship Triumph here.} The "Ticket Contract" that passengers agree to when purchasing their tickets protects Carnival from almost all liability. Almost.

The contract begins with a bit of a warning - "IMPORTANT TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF CONTRACT - READ CAREFULLY". What follows is more than 8,000 words of legalese that explains the rights and responsibilities of both the cruise line and the passengers. (Spoiler alert: the cruise line has the majority of the rights, and the passenger holds most of the responsibility.) The language is not as confusing as you might think; the cruise line needs it to be clear enough for a person to understand what they are agreeing to.

Here are the main points about liability:

  • Passengers forfeit their right to a trial by jury, except in the case of bodily injury or wrongful death. All claims will be settled by binding arbitration.
  • Carnival is immune to class action lawsuits unless there is wrongful death or bodily injury. Claimants must file as individuals.
  • Passengers must provide written notice of the particulars of a claim for bodily injury or wrongful death to the cruise line within 185 days and file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida within 1 year. State or federal statute of limitations do not apply.
  • If the cruise does not start, end, or disembark at any U.S. destinations, then maximum compensation for wrongful death is limited to $60,000.
  • Carnival places value limits on passenger's personal property - specifically, $50 per bag.

So what does this mean for the passengers of the Triumph after their five extra days stranded at sea on a feces filled cruise ship? Quite a lot actually.

First, passengers only have 185 days to notify Carnival of their complaint and 1 year to file in a Florida court. There is also some question as to what those complaints might be. Negligent infliction of emotional distress would be the main justification for a suit, and it would not be difficult to argue based on firsthand accounts of the conditions onboard. But, the Ticket Contract addresses this directly:

[Carnival] is not liable to the passenger for damages for emotional distress, mental suffering/anguish or psychological injury of any kind under any circumstances, except when such damages were caused by the negligence of Carnival and resulted from the same passenger sustaining actual physical injury, or having been at risk of actual physical injury.

Although the experience was emotionally damaging and physically trying, there have not been reports of any physical injuries. Yes, there were some small skirmishes that broke out, but they were quickly handled and no one was injured as the result of the cruise line's actions. While everyone onboard was at risk of contracting illnesses or disease due to the unsanitary conditions, but as of yet no serious illnesses have been reported so no bodily harm has occurred. This means that the passengers are prohibited from coming together and filing a class action lawsuit and any legal pursuits for compensation must be made as individuals. Class action lawsuits allow the victims to combine all of their claims into one case, allowing the costs to be shared. Without a class action, each person must hire their own lawyer and each pay expenses for pursuing a case on their own. And they will never go to court, because as the Ticket Contract stipulates, they have forfeited their right to a trial by jury since there was no bodily injury or death and the case would be settled by binding arbitration.

These stipulations alone make lawsuits from the passengers seem unlikely, yet the first suits have already been filed. If the court upholds the terms of the Ticket Contract, these claims will at worst be dismissed and at best sent to arbitration where the arbitrator's decision as to compensation will be final.

What the cruise line has offered the passengers of Triumph, is reimbursement for the cruise, a voucher for a future cruise, and a payment of $500. The value of this compensation package is roughly worth about $1,750 per passenger (on average) from what I could research online about the cost of Carnival four day cruises of this type. It is unlikely that an attorney would take a case like this because the cost to litigate would greatly exceed the compensation possible without the possibility of a class action suit, and because of the restrictions of that legally savvy Ticket Contract. It is doubtful that arbitration would yield a higher settlement when there was no tangible physical injury.

Despite the apparent legal restrictions, the first lawsuits against Carnival have already been filed and it would still be worthwhile to consult a personal injury attorney to review and assess individual circumstances and claims. The Law Offices of Casey W. Stevens handles all types of personal injury cases. Mr. Stevens will review the details of your case and provide expert legal opinions about your options in a no cost, no obligation, case evaluation. If you or someone you love has been the victim of emotional distress on a vacation, contact our offices today to discover your rights and explore your options.

In addition to the Carnival line, Carnival Corporation also owns Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line in North America; P&O Cruises, Cunard Line and Ocean Village in the United Kingdom; AIDA in Germany; Costa Cruises in southern Europe; Iberocruceros in Spain; and P&O Cruises in Australia.

References:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/14/travel/cruise-fires/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/13/opinion/walker-cruise-ships/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/14/travel/cruises-five-things/index.html?iid=article_sidebar

http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/14/travel/questions-cruise-passengers

http://www.carnival.com/CMS/Static_Templates/ticket_contract.aspx

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/02/15/stranded-carnival-cruise-expected-to-dock-in-alabama-after-four-days-with/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100461957

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/us/carnival-cruise-line-ship-triumph.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0