Carnival Booze Cruise Disaster Ends Up In Court

Courthouse News Service reports on a disturbing story of Carnival allegedly over-serving alcohol to a passenger who fell off the cruise ship and then not taking reasonable steps to rescue the overboard woman.

The case involves cruise passenger "Sarah."  As Courthouse News explains: 

"After Carnival cruises got her so drunk she fell overboard, and eyewitnesses reported it, the captain refused to turn around the ship for 90 minutes, then refused to airlift her to hospital to treat her fractured bones." 

The incident occurred aboard the Carnival Destiny in October of last year. Sarah was cruising to Jamaica with her fiancé and her friend Rebecca. We wrote about the incident when it happened: Why Carnival Destiny Passenger RescueDid Carnival Delay Rescuing An Overboard Passenger From The Destiny?

The lawsuit alleges that a bartender kept pushing drinks on her. To encourage more alcohol sales, the Carnival bartender offered them free $5 coupons for the ship's casino. As a result, Sarah became "extremely intoxicated" and fell into the ocean but not before first striking a life boat during her 100 foot fall.

Her injuries included what is describes as "fractured orbital bones, lung contusions, hypothermia, fractured ribs, dissection of the carotid artery, heart arrhythmia, broken optical shelves, blood clots in her eyes, arms, and legs, as well as extreme hematomas all over her body."

Sarah's friend, fiance and others on the ship saw and/or heard her fall into the ocean and immediately notified several Carnival staff members.  Carnival refused and delayed before they turned the ship to cruise ship around and eventually found her nearly two hours in the ocean, severely injured and without a life vest. 

But the woman's ordeal was not over. Carnival refused to airlift her to a hospital, but diverted the cruise to Key West, where "doctors explained that they did not have the equipment to handle the severe trauma that plaintiff had suffered. They also stated that the plaintiff should have been air evacuated from the cruise ship directly to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami."

The story was also covered by Cruise Critic, and the members of that on-line cruise site are blaming Sarah for not exercising "personal responsibility."

Bur cruise lines are considered to be persons under the law. Cruise lines have responsibility to their guests. There is case law in Florida that cruise lines face liability when they over-serve passengers past the point of intoxication which appears to be the case if the allegations are true.  Plus it's inexcusable to delay a couple of hours before trying to rescue an overboard passenger, whether they are drunk or not.

People may scoff at the case but Carnival earns hundreds of millions of dollars pushing alcohol on its huge fleet of cruise ships. It faces a multi-million dollar exposure in a case with such egregious allegations.   

Costa Coffin Cruise Ships

Lyndsey O'Brien - Costa Coffin Cruise ShipsIn March of 2006 I attended the second of seven cruise ship hearings in Washington D.C. regarding cruise ship crimes and missing passengers.

The most compelling cruise story featured at the hearing was the case of Lynsey O'Brien, a fifteen year old Irish girl traveling with her family aboard the Costa Magica cruise ship. During the cruise, the Costa bartenders served 15-year-old Lyndsey 10 drinks. A newspaper in Ireland wrote "in a period of 45 minutes his 15-year-old daughter was served 10 drinks in a bar on the cruise ship, two Sex on the Beach, four Woo Woos, two vodka and mixers, a shot of vodka and liqueurs."

Lyndsey went overboard while trying to vomit over the railing. She has never been found. Her mom and dad, two sisters and brother returned to Ireland from the Costa cruise without their sister. 

Lynsey's father Paul O'Brien just published a book a week ago about the horrendous experience of losing a child during what should be a holiday cruise and then ending up in a lawsuit against the cruise line which killed your daughter.

Mr. O'Brien's book is called Lynsey's Law Costa Coffin Cruise Ships & Obama.  He has a facebook page about his experience as well. 

July 9 2012 Update:  A newspaper in Ireland reports today on the death of Lynsey's father, Paul O'Brien at age 49.

Booze Cruise: The Royal Caribbean Way

Its amusing to watch a cruise line caught in a scandal pretend to be outraged over "unfair" media scrutiny.

Royal Caribbean's response to Inside Edition's out-of-control cruise booze expose' reminds me of the the quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother.

Last week, InsideEdition aired a story "Inside Edition Investigates Cruise Ship Drinking" which took a look at widespread public intoxication aboard Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.  Inside Edition's show contained video depicting:

". . . many passengers pound back booze day and night. In the ship's night club, our cameras spotted people passed out and one passenger face down on the bar. We also observed raunchy dancing and women exposing themselves.

From the moment our undercover producers walked up the gangway, the booze kept flowing. We saw many passengers drinking heavily before and during the mandatory lifeboat drill  . . . 

But the real boozing we witnessed occurred after the Liberty of the Seas set sail when legions of waiters descended on passengers with tray loads of booze pushing the drink of the day."   You can watch the video below:  

 

 

The following day Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein wrote a blog about the Inside Edition expose, calling it "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." He wrote about his cruise line's "SafeServe" alcohol training program and allegedly "strict policies" against over-serving alcohol to passengers.

There is no question that Royal Caribbean has a written policy theoretically designed to curb excessive drinking. But its just that - a policy.  In practice, the waiters and bartenders routinely ignore the policy and push alcohol sales. Its hard to take a cruise CEO's shore-side policies seriously when you watch videos of Royal Caribbean waiters, who work almost entirely on tips, dancing around with bottles of rum on their heads while pouring double shots directly into the passenger's mouths.

Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $50 a month.  The waiters push booze in order to obtain gratuities.  Profits from aggressive alcohol sales are a fundamental part of the cruise line's "onboard purchases" program.  The cruise line nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze. If Royal Caribbean was serious about curtailing over-consumption of alcohol during cruises, they would pay the waiters and bartenders a reasonable salary. 

Lots-of-cruise booze translates into lots of cruise profits but higher incidents of sexual assault, drunken brawls and serious accidents including some leading to death.  The alcohol related problems on Royal Caribbean cruise ships date back decades.

In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy's Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises."  A 14 Royal Caribbean Cruise Booze - Alcohol  year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor's death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation.  It's not a baby-sitting service."

There have been problems with too much booze on Royal Caribbean cruise ships ever since.

The first sexual assault case I handled in the late 1990's involved a 15 year old boy served a dozen glasses of champagne and then molested by a 28 year old Royal Caribbean crew member pedophile.

Perhaps one of the best known cases of an over-served passenger involved another case we handled where honeymoon cruiser George Smith was grossly over-served alcohol.  Royal Caribbean bartenders even provided shot glasses for Mr. Smith and other passengers to quaff absinthe that had been smuggled aboard the Brilliance of the Seas.

The seminal case involving the responsibility of cruise lines in dispensing alcohol is a 2004 case here in Miami called Hall v. Royal Caribbean.  A passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the opinion, "was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel's employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways."  

The trial court threw the case out saying that the cruise line had no obligation to the drunken passenger. But the appellate court revered, holding that although passengers have a personal responsibility to act reasonably, the cruise lines also have a corporate responsibility of acting reasonably in serving a safe amount of alcohol.

In 2006, a young man from Ohio, Daniel DiPiero, fell off a Royal Caribbean ship when he tried to vomit over the railing which was too low.  The accident was entirely preventable.  Video showed that the young man had passed out in a deck chair but no security had passed by for several hours.

In 2011, another intoxicated young passenger went overboard from Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas after Royal Caribbean over-served him alcohol.

Royal Caribbean Alcohol - All You Can Drink - Cruise Ship In the same year an underage passenger alleged that she was raped on a Royal Caribbean after becoming intoxicated.

Many of the problems with alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the past few years stem from its all-you-can-drink-packages,where passengers can drink themselves into a stupor for a daily set price. No cruise line with a genuine concern for passenger safety would market these types of unlimited booze deals.  

With this history in mind, CEO Goldstein's protestations about "sensational" media reports fall on my deaf ears. There is nothing more sensational for a family to learn that their son has gone overboard or their daughter has been raped after Royal Caribbean over-served them alcohol. 

The Inside Edition video speaks for itself.  Little has changed at Royal Caribbean.  The cruise line continues to push cruise booze and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free booze profits in the process. 

At the end of the day, it's the "personal responsibility" versus "corporate liability" debate.  What do you think?

Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts . . .  

May 16, 2012 Update:  The South Florida Business Journal mentions our blog in the article Alcohol vs. Drugs on Cruise Ships

 

Drunk & Naked Students Trash P & O Cruise - Ferry

College students, booze and ships are often a recipe for bedlam.  Being "cruise drunk" can lead to violence.  

Spirit of France - Drunk Passengers The media in the U.K. is reporting that around 200 college students headed to France on a skiing trip stripped naked, smashed glasses and overturned furniture during a drunken night of havoc on the P&O Spirit of France. 

The ferry was sailing from Dover to Calais when University of Manchester students clashed with students from the Manchester Metropolitan University in the ship’s bar.

The U.K."s Mail Online writes:

"Passengers, many with young children, had to be moved to a secure room for their own safety. 

Crew members said many of the students, who were going skiing, were drunk before they boarded the ship.

It has been reported that students were seen dancing on the tables and were even exposing themselves.

Men and women are believed to have been streaking and fighting at the bar and a P&O spokeswoman said they were forced to take all non-university passengers to an area of the ship which is usually an exclusive lounge so they were 'out of harm's way'."

P & O stated that it would not permit the students back on the ferry to return to the U.K.

Earlier in the week 100 drunken and brawling young adults were booted from a harbor cruise in Australia.