The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 22, 2013

Cruise lawsuits are in, but Carnival has advantage



MIAMI (AP) — Lawsuits are already filed in this month's disastrous Triumph cruise ship voyage, but the legal deck is stacked in parent company Carnival's favor, mainly because of the restrictive terms of vacationers' tickets, governing who can sue and where.

Cases involving the Triumph — which was disabled Feb. 10 by an engine fire that stranded thousands of passengers onboard for days in the Gulf of Mexico — and other Carnival Cruise Lines ships must be filed in South Florida federal courts, near the company's Miami headquarters. The ship left from Galveston, Texas, for Mexico and eventually was towed to port in Mobile, Ala., after the fire. Passengers traveled from around the country for the trip.

Maritime law experts said Thursday that passengers could win despite the limitations if they can show that the cruise line was negligent in letting the ship sail despite past engine problems and that their mental suffering was so severe they had to seek medical or psychological care.

"I think there is a good case of liability against Carnival. The issue really comes down to the damages," said Robert Peltz, a maritime lawyer not involved in any Triumph-related cases.

Still, other attorneys cautioned it won't be easy because of the way Carnival and others craft their cruise tickets — which are considered legally binding contracts often running several pages of fine print.

"If the ship breaks down, consumers are dependent on the goodwill of the cruise lines, which drafted iron-tight terms and conditions which protect them from virtually all bad experiences," said Jim Walker, a Miami maritime attorney and author of a blog called www.cruiselaw.com.

Three passenger lawsuits were filed as of Thursday, one seeking class-action status for more than 3,000 passengers aboard the Triumph when the engine fire cut off all power and left them at sea for five days. Passengers say they endured terrible conditions on board, including food shortages, raw sewage running in corridors and tent cities for sleeping on deck.

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