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Carnival, passengers in court over disabled ship

MIAMI (AP) -- About three dozen passengers who sailed on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise ship that drifted at sea for days are hoping to collect thousands of dollars apiece as a result of lingering medical and mental problems they say were caused by their nightmarish experience.

Their lawsuit, the first to go to trial since the February 2013 cruise, is being vigorously defended by Miami-based Carnival Corp., which contends the passengers cannot show such problems as kidney stones, post-traumatic stress disorder and scratchy throats are linked to unsanitary conditions or the fire that disabled the engine.

At stake is perhaps millions of dollars, as well as the industry's restrictive policy - printed on each ticket - that governs the kinds of lawsuits passengers can file. Two maritime law experts also said the trial already set an important precedent in cruise line cases when the judge ruled Carnival was negligent simply because the fire broke out, regardless of the reason.

"Ships shouldn't catch fire in the middle of the sea for no reason," said Robert Peltz, a Miami maritime attorney not involved in the Triumph case.

Passenger Debra Oubre, of Friendswood, Texas, who said she has worked in cruise line shore operations and has enjoyed a dozen cruises, said she joined the suit to hold someone accountable.

"Many of us, if not all of us, were physically or emotionally hurt," she said. "I just want the truth to be told."

Again and again during the three-week trial, Triumph passengers have told their story to Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Graham, who is hearing the case without a jury. Testimony is expected to wrap up this week, and Graham could decide whether the passengers deserve any damages at any time.

Some Triumph passengers testified on Carnival's behalf Wednesday, including James Ede, of Houston, who said the crew kept them well-informed and provided plenty of water.

"I got almost a little tired of people saying, `How can I help you?'" Ede said of the crew.

According to Carnival, at least nine other Triumph lawsuits are pending in South Florida federal court, including a proposed class-action that seeks to represent all of the roughly 3,000 passengers aboard the ship. Attorneys involved in the current trial say its outcome could affect what happens in these other cases, although the legal claims are somewhat different.

Carnival tickets require lawsuits against the world's largest cruise line to be filed only in South Florida federal court. The tickets also state that passengers agree they can't bring a class-action lawsuit, but some lawyers are challenging that based on negligence claims.

The 893-foot Triumph left Galveston, Texas on Feb. 7, 2013, for a four-day cruise highlighted by a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. After departing Cozumel, a fire broke out at about 5 a.m. in the ship's engine room Feb. 10. It left the ship without engine power and most of its electricity, forcing passengers to endure human waste running down hallways, limited water supplies, noxious odors and extreme heat.

After about five days in the Gulf of Mexico, the ship was finally towed to Mobile, Ala., and the weary, bedraggled passengers disembarked Feb. 14. Carnival sought to make amends by offering each passenger a $500 check, a voucher for a future cruise, refunds of most on-board expenses and reimbursement for transportation, parking and so forth.

For many of the passengers, those offers were an insult and multiple lawsuits were filed seeking millions of dollars in damages. In the current trial, Judge Graham has ruled that passengers cannot collect punitive damages and may only get damages for past and future medical costs that are conclusively linked to what happened on the Triumph.

Many of the 33 passengers involved in the trial complain of lingering emotional issues such as PTSD, anxiety and depression; some have physical ailments they blame on squalid conditions, including leg pain, diarrhea, upper respiratory problems and even aggravated hemorrhoids.

Larry Poret, of Lufkin, Texas, who took the cruise with his then-12-year-old daughter Rebecca, said he remains scarred by how frightened she was, especially trying to sleep out on deck in pitch black nights.

"Something that was supposed to be so much fun turned out to be a nightmare. I felt like I let my daughter down," Poret said. "You just can't get it out of your mind."

Most of the passengers are seeking $5,000 in damages a year from Carnival for the rest of their lives, claiming they will need continuous medical monitoring because of what happened aboard ship. They want the money in lump sums based on government tables estimating their life expectancies. Poret, for example, would get about $115,000 and his daughter, who is much younger, an estimated $345,000.

An expert witness for the passengers, Dr. Ernest Schiodo, testified that each person's health problems were "caused by the exposure or aggravated by the exposure" to the Triumph's horrific conditions, including the human waste. That prompted a pointed question from the judge.

"Does that mean if you use a portable toilet you need this special testing for the rest of your life?" Graham said.

"Not if you use one, but if you fall in and wallow in it for a couple of days, yes," Schiodo said.

Carnival attorney Curtis Mase has asked Graham to reject all of the damage claims. In court papers, Mase said the passengers either haven't proved their health issues are linked to the Triumph cruise or haven't shown they suffer from any lingering problems at all.

The passengers, Mase wrote, "are not entitled to damages simply for experiencing the conditions on the vessel." And, he added, "they failed to prove that Carnival's conduct was the legal cause of the injury."

In the aftermath, Carnival announced a $300 million program to add emergency generators, upgrade fire safety and improve engine rooms on all 24 of its ships. The cruise line also said it would repay the U.S. government an unspecified amount for the costs to taxpayers of responses to disabling accidents on the Triumph and a previous disabled ship, the Splendor.

As for the Triumph, it was repaired and refitted in Mobile, but not before it broke free during a windstorm and sustained about $2.7 million in damage and a dock worker drowned. It was returned to service last summer.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
citrus lake March 05 2014 at 6:46 PM


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1 reply
scsnk citrus lake March 05 2014 at 7:12 PM

+1 for having a splendid avatar!

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allcgirl March 05 2014 at 7:33 PM

Rediculous for people to become rich off of such a thing. How about a refund or another cruise at no cost. I hate to see people file a lawsuit for profit. I think it's so dishonest. Unless they were poisoned through food, or unhealthy conditions, maybe some additional money for pain and suffering, but if it was just a flu bug that spread from person to person, that's rediculous.

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Lenny March 05 2014 at 7:34 PM

Its all about the money.

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1 reply
gdg253 Lenny March 05 2014 at 7:55 PM

It's blood money. and when karma strikes and you get sued don't say why me? Yo got what you deserved.

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rexitalia March 05 2014 at 7:36 PM

I little greedy don't ya think?

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1 reply
GOBGOTZ rexitalia March 05 2014 at 7:48 PM

Not a little greedy but a LOT greedy!

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Sterling Lieb March 05 2014 at 7:38 PM

FRIVILOUS LAWSUITS ONCE AGAIN . Mental issues? Hogwash! People take their issues with them wherever they go. When will people ever stop playing the insane blame-game that is raging across our Land? Opportunists are on the rise and will make any kind of claim in order to justify their greedy end. No thanks to the commercials lawyers use to lure in clients. This sue-crazy society has created a pitiful and greedy state of affairs that is destroying our country. Lets blame God and all the angels for allowing our world to turn into a basket case of idiots, and sue heaven. Oh wait, that is already happening. Here is some advice. If you plan to fly, drive a car, use a phone, go on a cruise, swim in an ocean full of sharks, shop in a Mall, ride on an escalator, attend class in any school or college, skate, walk through a park, cross a street, take medications etc. be prepared to first establish who you should be prepared to sue. **** happens folks, so stop playing the poor victim card and take responsibility for your own actions. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES happens to be the best of the best and goes out of the way to assure the safety of its passengers, just as every car manufacturer does. But then along comes the greedy. Greed produces the need to become even more greedy. God help our country and our once proud society. Parents can't even guarantee to their children that their instructions will enable them to succeed in life,or that they will never be victimized at some time in their lifetime. How is it then plausible then to think that things created will not break down on a cruise ship or a car, plane or whatever? The human body wears out and breaks down. How about suing parents for not guaranteeing health, beauty, wealth etc. If yuo fall off a horse get back on. Bad cruise? Book another and another and another. Soon you run out of excuses. Just a thought.

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Steve-a-rino March 05 2014 at 7:38 PM

Wow - five whole days at sea in the Caribbean. I wonder what the passengers of the Mayflower would think of that?

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Al March 05 2014 at 7:40 PM

When your on a ship oout in the middle of no were, anything can happen. Just like if you took a trip in you car and you go of the road or yor car breaks down , who do you blame now. people get over yourselfs your looking for a free ride plain and simple.

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gdg253 March 05 2014 at 7:41 PM

If you go to a ballgame and get sick...Is it the fault of the stadium? Hell no!...Can you prove the ship was not clean when you boarded it? Whenever you get ill, flu,cold, etc. it's simply because you were in the wrong place at the right time. If I go to a restaurant and the guy at the next table coughs and I get a cold is it the restaurants fault, should I sue the restaurant. If this is the case maybe we should make every passenger get a physical prior to boarding. Floating human waste? If they used the trash bags and tied them this would not have happened. How many times have you gone into a restroom and the toilet is marked "out of order" and you see it's overflowing because somebody used the toilet because they didn't care. How many on that ship will admit they tried to flush or used the toilet after they were told not to. The idiot passengers trying to get rich are the cause. This is the same type of thinking that has made auto and heath insurance rates go thru the roof. Guess it's the American way...SUE & though shall get RICH>>

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theloneknight March 05 2014 at 7:41 PM

Every one sue for everything these days, even when they get sea sick, or catch cold, or catch a virus, or trow up because the sea was too choppy, only because........the Judicial System allows it and attorney are there to make money. Example a 5.000.00 settlement = 30% ( 1,500.00 ) to attorney fee, the the attorney dedoct the Court costs, expenses, ( including travel, lunches and dinners ) at the end the poor devils get left with merely $ 1000.00. Now you all gonna say " is better than nothing " right?, however if the cruise line offers another free cruise, is not taken why?? because we have to sue and make 5,000 smaccaroes . Smile

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1 reply
SeaBreeze4994 theloneknight March 05 2014 at 7:54 PM

exactually and have you noticed all the folks who keep quiet are the ones who lose the things they like , let one person complain and they always get away with everything and all we do is lose or pay more

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blucola March 05 2014 at 7:50 PM

I would never go on a cruise. Seems like every year we hear about folks getting sick on a cruise somewhere. That said, though, the cruise line offered compensation at the time of the incident. I would have taken it and then sold the voucher to someone else.

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1 reply
gdg253 blucola March 05 2014 at 8:01 PM

Seems like you should never get in a car..accidents happen...you should never eat out...you should never go shopping...in fact you should never go outside...there are sick people every where.

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