Suits coming in over disabled cruise ship nightmare at sea

By Marilyn Tennissen | Feb 19, 2013

It took less than a day after the crippled cruise ship Carnival Triumph returned to port for passengers to begin filing lawsuits over their four-day nightmare at sea.

Cassie Terry, of Brazoria County, filed suit Feb. 15 in federal court in the Southern District of Florida against the Carnival Corp., doing business as Carnival Cruise Lines.

“Plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell,” the suit states.

“This is a suit for breach of maritime contract, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud, arising out of incidents that occurred on, about, or around February 7, 2013, onboard the MV Carnival Triumph (the “Vessel”), wherein Plaintiff, a passenger, was injured as a result of the unseaworthy, unsafe, unsanitary, and generally despicable conditions of the Vessel created by the Defendant's tortious and negligent conduct,” the suit states (Case 1:13-cv-20571-DLG).

Terry was among almost 4,000 passengers and crew who departed Galveston on Feb. 7 for four-day leisure cruise to Mexico on board the Carnival Triumph. On Feb. 10, a fire broke out in the engine room, leaving the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico without electricity or plumbing.

Terry’s attorney, Marcus Spagnoletti of Gilman & Allison LLP in Pearland, wrote that the passengers were “forced to endure deplorable, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, including but not limited to, sweltering temperatures, lack of power and air conditioning, lack of hot or running water, and lack of toilets.”

Over the next several days, the crippled ship was towed by several tugboats to the port in Mobile, Ala., where it arrived on Feb. 15.

“During the horrifying and excruciating tow back to the United States, the Vessel listed sharply several times, causing human waste to spill out of non-functioning toilets, flood across the Vessel’s floors and halls, and drip down the Vessel’s walls,” Terry’s suit states. “Plaintiff was forced to endure unbearable and horrendous odors on the filthy and disabled Vessel, and wade through human feces in order to reach food lines where the wait was counted in hours, only to receive rations of spoiled food.”

While Terry may have been the first to file a suit, a Florida law firm jumped in and filed a proposed class action on behalf of passengers onboard the Carnival Triumph.

The Miami-based maritime firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman PA filed suit on Feb. 18 in the Southern District of Florida. The named class representatives in the suit are Oklahoma residents Matt and Melissa Crusan (Case 1:13-cv-20592-KMW).

The firm states that cruise lines are responsible for the safety of passengers and crew members, which entails making sure illness and disease don’t spread among those aboard a vessel.

In addition to the poor conditions on the ship, the class action also faults Carnival’s decision to tow the Triumph to Mobile instead of the closer port in Progresso, Mexico.

The delay “caused passengers to endure more time onboard the disabled vessel than was necessary, prolonging their exposure to disease, accidents and trauma,” the suit states.

In a statement, attorney Jason Margulies said “an evacuation in Progreso would have allowed Carnival to contain its passengers' suffering and would have enabled Carnival, from civilization, to systematically coordinate the passengers' transport back to the United States.”

Carnival announced it would give all passengers a full refund of the cruise and transportation expenses, a future cruise credit, reimbursement of all shipboard purchases and $500 per person.

Lipcon attorney Michael Winkleman said passengers do not have to settle for “this meager compensation.” In a statement, Winkleman said the firm has found sufficient evidence providing grounds for Triumph victims to file a class action lawsuit against Carnival.

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