Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Lawsuit?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 Splendor Cruise Ship Fire - Lawsuit?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."

USA Today: "Sue Carnival over Splendor incident? Don’t bother, says top cruise lawyer."

Fox News: "Cruise Line Crisis and Compensation."

American Bar Association Journal: "Cruise Ship Lawyer: Smelly Toilets and Cold Showers Won’t Support a Lawsuit."

Gadling: "Should Splendor Passengers Sue Carnival after their Ship Broke Down?"

U.K. Mirror: "Splendor Passengers Back Carnival."


Slate Magazine: "Lawyers to Carnival Passengers: Don’t Come Crying to Me."

Photo credit:

Top – CBS News video

Bottom – Washington Post video

  • Suzanne Childers

    GREAT post Jim! I love your last sentence. Kudos to you for reminding us of the reality faced daily for our soldiers over seas.

  • Thanks Suzanne for your comment!

  • Mark Gaouette

    I agree Jim,

    Although this fire was serious enough to knock the ship out of operation, it did not put passengers lives at risk the way the Star Princess fire did in 2005 as the ship approached Jamaica. One passenger died as a result of thick smoke that engulfed the interior passenger spaces after the port side balconies caught fire. Being on a ship at sea when it is on fire is like being trapped in a skyscraper, there’s no place to run to. On a ship, the only escape is the sea. Fortunately, for the passengers (and crew) of the Splendor, the ship’s services were stabilized enough so that evacuation (into lifeboats) was not necessary. That certainly would have put lives at risk. Had this event happened farther out to sea, perhaps on a crossing of the Pacific, the situation would have been much different when help was perhaps weeks and not days away. Unlike a building that catches fire, there are no fire trucks or professional fireman that can respond to a ship on fire. The crew who fought the fire therefore, are the real heroes if they were able to contain the main space (engine room) fire quickly without risking passenger’s lives. Maybe they should be the ones considering legal action if their lives were put at risk because of any negligence or dangerous circumstances that may have contributed to the Splendor fire. The passengers, if they so choose, can go on another cruise but have little grounds for legal action as a result.

  • Thanks Commander Gaoutte. If you are on a cruise ship which catches fire in the middle of the ocean, and you and your family get home safely, you have had a good day.

    Reimbursement of your fare and a free cruise are icing on the cake. . .

  • Emma Yulick

    As others have said… Ship Happens. The common-sense folk know that proper maintenance is conducted and that every precaution is taken on these ventures, and as a cruiser, I completely appreciate the enormity and complexity of even a single trouble-free cruise. I have every confidence that the cruise passengers in onboard were taken care of in the best possible manner. The compensation was far more than adequate; add in some free drinks and consider it an adventure you’ll never forget… it’s the best of a not-so-good situation. Kudos to the Carnival team.

    My husband and I cruised on Splendor last January and we are taking our daughter on the exact same trip at the end of January. We are still looking forward to the trip! The crew and accommodations were just great; I wouldn’t miss it!

  • Terry from Liverpool UK

    Is the postion different for an English person. Will Carnival refund the cost of our travel to and from from the UK and offer us a free cruise.

  • Leigh McMillan
  • Thanks Leigh, I had to write a blog about smelly toilets and Spam to be mentioned by the ABA!

  • Roseanne DeFino

    Can you recommend a lawyer that handles suits for Hotels?

  • william Swan

    passengers who recieved any reasonable offer of compensation from Carnival following the Carnival Splendor fire are extremely lucky! After contracting cyclospora on that compny’s vessel Sun Princess during June 2010 and suffering a loss of amenity for 13 days of that 21 cruise and for the following 5 weeks with hospital emergency departments included.Even though Carnival T/A Princess Cruises Australia has accepted the Cyclospora was present and did cause gastro enteritis for many passengers on that voyage and the vessels previous voyage have refused point blank to consider any compensation even one protected by “in good faith only”! William Swan

  • Hazel Kynaston

    Rung Miami Office yesterday regarding “free cruise”, was told there are no free cruises! anyone else know anything? Hazel from Uk

  • Patrick

    It would be a good compensation package, if they were living up to the terms. There has been no reimbursement for travel expenses after dozens of calls.

  • West Coast

    My wife and I were supposed to sail on Carnival Splendor on Dec 12, but that cruise was canceled. We were offered full refund. That was 2 months ago, where is our money? Why is Carnival not refunding our prepaid cruise after they said they would refund us?