Now that the disabled Carnival Splendor is back in a U.S. port, some lawyers are advertising that the passengers should consider filing a lawsuit. One cruise site, offering "cruise insider expert advice," is shilling for a Miami lawyer: "Now is the time to join the November 7, 2010 passengers in a joint effort for compensation. Contact us if you were on this cruise."
Such desperate solicitation like this never ceases to amaze me.
Any time there is a cruise disaster, the issue of lawsuits arises. Sometimes there is a basis to file a lawsuit, and sometimes - like this time - there is clearly not. Many passengers from the Carnival Splendor have contacted our office seeking a maritime lawyer to sue the cruise line for damages. We have told them that there is no basis to consider suing Carnival under these circumstances. They are wasting their time and money if they file a lawsuit, for these three reasons:
- In order to have a legitimate case for compensation, a cruise passenger has to suffer a personal injury. Experiencing inconvenience and unpleasant circumstances does not constitute a personal injury unless there is a physical injury. If you fall down a flight of stairs in the dark and break your hip, that's a personal injury. But taking cold showers, smelling toilets that can't be flushed, eating Spam sandwiches in the dark or other similar "cruise from hell" stories are not compensable.
- The cruise ticket drafted by Carnival protects the cruise line: “If the performance of the proposed voyage is hindered or prevented by . . . breakdown of the vessel . . . Carnival may cancel the proposed voyage without liability to refund passage money or fares paid in advance.” The passenger ticket also requires passengers to file suit in Miami, which the United States Supreme Court has upheld.
- Carnival has already offered to refund the passengers' fare and travel expenses and a free cruise of equal value in the future. So if you are foolish enough to file suit (in Miami), you simply will not do any better than what is already being offered now. Plus you will incur legal expenses and travel expenses pursuing a case in Miami which you are certain to lose.
Carnival's offer after this fire should be compared to its response to the fire aboard the Carnival Tropicale cruise ship in 1999. Like the Splendor, the Tropicale was disabled by an engine room fire and the cruise ship bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico. Carnival offered the passengers only a 25% discount - which the passengers felt was a slap in the face and created a public relations nightmare.
Carnival has handled this fire knowing that its response will be scrutinized in the court of public opinion. Its CEO traveled from Miami to San Diego and held a press conference where he apologized and offered a full refund, reimbursement of travel expenses and a free future cruise.
Most Americans think that Carnival's offer is fair. MSNBC ran a story yesterday "Free Cruise Should Be Enough for Splendor Passengers." In a poll of over 10,000 readers, MSNBC asked should the passengers stuck on the Carnival Splendor consider legal action? 88% said: "No - Carnival's compensation package is more than generous." Only 8% said: "Yes - Days at sea in miserable conditions is worth more than money back and a future cruise." (The remaining 4% said: "Unsure - Passengers may have a tough time since they signed an air-tight contract.")
Although the passengers on the Splendor were inconvenienced by the fire and the elderly undoubtedly suffered the most, sometimes a cruise line will step up to the plate and make a fair offer. But if you decide to reject it, please don't call us. Most jurors will not have much patience for vacationers complaining about eating Pop Tarts on a cruise ship, when some of the jurors cannot afford a cruise in the first place and our U.S. troops have been eating MRE meals in the middle of the desert in Iraq and Afghanistan.
November 14, 2010 Update:
A reader of Senior Cruise Director John Heald's blog sums up Canival's compensations as follows:
- Full refund
- Future credit equal to total of what was paid to be applied to a future cruise and must be used within 2 years.
- Refund of transportation costs to the pier and from San Diego back home. One person said they took a bus from Las Vegas to the pier and Carnival (besides putting them up in San Diego is flying them home.)
- Overnight stay in San Diego for those who requested it AND a daily stipend.
- For those who had flights Carnival made the changes for them.
- Any charges made on Sunday on the guests “Sign and Sail card were forgiven!!! (This included spa treatments, alcohol, purchases in the gift shop AND even gambling losses in the casino slots!!!)
- All photos taken by Carnival of the guests were put out in the photo shop and guests were invited to come get their pictures at no charge!
- On Tuesday and Wednesday Carnival opened some bars. Alcohol, wine and beer was given to the guests.
- Carnival advised the guests that everything in their mini bars was free! (My minibar had 6 sodas, 6 beers, and 10 or 12 shot bottles of alcohol.)
This blog article went viral and was discussed by:
The Wall Street Journal Blog: "Plaintiffs’ Lawyer to Splendor Passengers: Don’t Bother Suing."
Fox News: "Cruise Line Crisis and Compensation."
American Bar Association Journal: "Cruise Ship Lawyer: Smelly Toilets and Cold Showers Won’t Support a Lawsuit."
U.K. Mirror: "Splendor Passengers Back Carnival."
Slate Magazine: "Lawyers to Carnival Passengers: Don't Come Crying to Me."
Top - CBS News video
Bottom - Washington Post video