The legal claims will likely fail, but the pressure on Carnival to make amends will certainly lead to at least cosmetic changes to how the industry handles big accidents.
Less than a week since passengers left the ill-fated Carnival Triumph, the lawsuits are already piling up against Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.
The latest was filed Wednesday in Galveston by the Mississippi law firm of John Arthur Eaves, which is also representing 80 passengers and family members affected by the Costa Concordia shipwreck last year.
Earlier this week, a Miami law firm filed a proposed class-action suit in federal court in Miami, following two other complaints filed here over the weekend and late last week.
They all stand about the same chance of success, said one South Florida law professor.
“Zero, zilch, zip, nada, not happening, not in this lifetime,” said Bob Jarvis, who teaches maritime law at Nova Southeastern University. “Maritime law is very much on the side of the ship owner.”
Carnival had no comment on the lawsuits.
The ship left Galveston Feb. 7 with 4,229 people on board for a four-night cruise, but that trip was interrupted by an engine room fire while it sailed off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early the morning of Feb. 10.
Automatic suppression systems put out the blaze and no one was hurt, but damage knocked out the ship’s propulsion and forced it to run on emergency backup power. Passengers complained of long waits for food, no hot water and broken toilets that led to unsanitary conditions.
The cruise line confirmed a report in Seatrade Insider Wednesday that a boat chartered to carry 11 technical and guest service employees to the ship during the ordeal never made it.
“Between the sea conditions and the pace at which the Carnival Triumph was rapidly drifting north, the smaller vessel ultimately had to return to shore based on fuel concerns,” Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said in an email. “The purpose was to lend additional support to the shipboard team but unfortunately the group was not able to reach the ship.”
With the help of tugs, the Triumph arrived in Mobile, Ala. late Feb. 14.
The proposed class action suit, filed by Miami maritime law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, alleges that Carnival should have known that the ship was likely to have problems because of prior propulsion issues — problems Carnival has said were unrelated. The suit also claims that Carnival had the ship towed to Mobile instead of a closer port in Mexico because it was cheaper and more convenient.
“Carnival recklessly and intentionally put more than 3,000 passengers through a five-day living nightmare so it could protect its bottom line,” the suit says.
Carnival has said the decision to tow the Triumph to Alabama, where it remains, came after the ship drifted north in strong currents while awaiting tugboats.
While the proposed class-action suit alleges that passengers suffered severe suffering, emotional distress and risk of physical harm, Jarvis said that a court would likely decide that guests were only due what they paid for the ruined trip.
“And Carnival has already done that,” he said.
The company said it would give all 3,143 passengers a full refund for the cruise and transportation expenses as well as a credit for a future cruise and an additional $500.
Said Jarvis: “These people have no hope and it’s just a lawyer feeding frenzy.”
(c)2013 The Miami Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services