The Palm Beach Post is reporting that a lawsuit was filed this week against Royal Caribbean by families of children with autism who faced the February 6th storm which terrorized many passengers aboard the Anthem of the Seas.

The article was written by the the Palm Beach Post’s weather reporter, Kim Miller, in her blog called WeatherPlus.  

Ms. Miller writes that "40 families of children with autism sued the luxury cruise company saying Anthem o fthe Seas Stormofficials were negligent in their actions to sail the Anthem of the Seas into the storm despite forecasts that predicted turbulent weather."  

She cites the lawsuit filed on Monday which says that "there were 40 families with Autism Spectrum Disorder children aboard the vessel and parents and aides did their best to protect themselves and their children who were being severely battered and traumatized."

The lawsuit represents a potential public relations nightmare for the cruise line which, ironically, has collaborated with Autism on the Seas, a non-profit national organization, since 2007, in developing cruise vacation services to accommodate adults and families living with children with special needs, including "autism, asperger syndrome, down syndrome, tourette syndrome, and cerebral palsy." 

Royal Caribbean said that the lawsuit lacks merit. The cruise line again commented that the Anthem encountered "unexpectedly severe storm" but still kept "the ship safe . . ." 

This may well prove to be a difficult case to defend given the fact that weather forecasts predicted 30+ foot waves and hurricane strength winds which rocked the cruise ship and damaged at least one of the ship’s azipod propulsion units in the storm. 

The court records reflect that John Ostrow of Miami and Alan Trachtman of New York City represent the families. Long time cruise line defense lawyer Curtis Mase of the Mase and Lara law firm in Miami is representing Royal Caribbean in the first two lawsuits arising out of the storm last month. 

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Photo Credit: Incredible World / ABC News / Youtube

After kicking disabled cruise passenger Jim Keskeny off in a Caribbean island alone, Celebrity Cruises responded to Mr. Keskeny’s request for reimbursement of his cruise fare and travel expenses home with a "bombastic and bullying" letter threatening him with legal fees and costs, according to his Mr. Keskeny’s Michigan lawyer Richard Bernstein.

The cruise line threats follow Mr. Keskeny’s decision to go to the press about his mistreatment aboard the Century cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary Celebrity Cruises. The Daily Tribune in Michigan first published an article explaining that Celebrity Cruises left Mr. Keskeny, who is wheelchair bound due to MS, alone on the island of Guadeloupe. Cruise Law Lawyer Richard Bernstein - Jim Keskeny - ADA - Celebrity Cruises - DisabilityNews followed up on this article the same day with Celebrity Cruises Abandons Disabled Passenger in Guadeloupe.

Celebrity Cruises refused to respond to requests for information by our blog and the newspaper in Michigan.

Instead, Celebrity eventually decided to release a statement only to the online cruise fan community, Cruise Critic, claiming that the cruise line has a strict policy that passengers with special needs must be self-sufficient and, if need be, travel with a companion to provide assistance with eating, dressing, toileting or lifting.

In fact, there is no such policy explained in the cruise passenger ticket at all. There is only an answer to the question "Can I Travel Alone?" in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the cruise line’s web site which casually mentions this language.  It is of no legal significance.

Celebrity Cruises responded to the unwanted publicity by pointing out that Mr. Keskeny was on a nude cruise (although he never undressed) offered by "Bare Necessities Tour and Travel Company," a company which specializes in nudist vacations.  Was Celebrity Cruises trying to embarrass Mr. Keskeny by releasing such information?  Probably, but who cares?  If cruising nude is on someone’s bucket list, more power to them especially if they have a debilitating neurological disease and they are in a wheelchair with perhaps a diminished life expectancy.  And consider that Celebrity and its parent company Royal Caribbean offer the greatest selection of alternative lifestyle cruising with nudist cruises, swinger cruises, cougar cruises, and gay rave / Atlantis drug cruises.

Mr. Keskeny and his lawyer Richard Bernstein seem not to be intimidated by Celebrity Cruises’ threats.  Mr. Bernstein, who himself is a disabled (blind) lawyer, indicates that Celebrity is trying to intimidate Mr. Keskeny because the cruise ship is not compliance with the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). 

In particular, Mr. Bernstein claims that the bathroom toilets are not ADA compliant, they are too low, and this was the problem in the first place.  Mr. Bernstein is responding to Celebrity Cruises heavy handed threats with his own threat – an investigation to determine whether the Celebrity cruise fleet is in fact ADA compliant.  

Whatever the outcome of this dispute, one thing is certain.  The issue of the cruise lines’ attitude toward disabled passengers is once again front and center.  Cruise lines historically have not been a friend of the disabled community.  Celebrity Cruises and the cruise industry’s trade group, the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), spent millions and fought vigorously to avoid complying with the ADA. 

The cruise industry argued that because cruise lines are not incorporated in the U.S. and fly foreign flags from countries in Africa and Central America, the ADA does not apply.  The cruise industry appealed this issue all of the way to the US Supreme Court before they lost.  Only then did the cruise lines begrudgingly begin reading the ADA’s design requirements for disabled passengers. 

It is a rather amazing spectacle to see a $15,000,000,000 non-tax paying foreign corporation in a shit kicking contest with a disabled U.S. passenger, with the hard core Cruise Critic fans ready to lynch the disabled passenger and his blind lawyer from the nearest tree.  

The story is now garnering international press – read the U.K.’s Mail Online "Nudist with Multiple Sclerosis Booted Off Naked Cruise."  And don’t miss the video below from the local ABC news station in Michigan:


Photo and video credit:   WXYZ ABC-7 Farmington Michigan

A newspaper in Michigan is reporting on what is described as a the "shocking and scary" story of a disabled cruise passenger who faced  the obstacles of a non ADA-compliant cruise ship only to have the cruise line force him off the ship in a Caribbean port to fend for himself alone. 

Jim Keskeny, age 66, is confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS").  He booked a cruise of the eastern Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by cruise line giant Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Keskeny paid $4,000 for a larger stateroom for his wheelchair.  He Jim Keskeny - ADA - Cruise Ship - Disability - Handicapped Passenger also reportedly paid extra to have a crew member available to assist him because he was traveling alone. 

According to the article "Voices of Disability: Cruise Line Strands Disabled Senior on Island" written by journalist Jerry Wolffe,  Mr. Keskeny had traveled extensively during his career on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation.  But his treatment on the cruise ship was like nothing he had experienced before.  The cruise line refused to assist him getting over the non ADA-compliant threshold into the bathroom, or to assist him when he fell.  “They wouldn’t touch me,” he said. “I felt like a leper.”

“If they had to touch me or lift me, I would be made to disembark,” he said cruise officials told him.

On the seventh day of the cruise, the cruise officers were true to their threat.  They ordered Mr. Keskeny off the cruise ship and left him in his wheelchair in Guadeloupe, alone.  He reportedly spent about $1,500 to get home. 

The newspaper notes that of additional concern to Mr. Keskeny, was the fact that he had to travel through the airport in Haiti.  Travel to Haiti normally requires vaccinations for certain diseases which pose a particular threat to Mr. Keskeny because of his MS which weakens a person’s immune system. 

The cruise in question was aboard the Century, one of Celebrity Cruises’ older ships.

Although our firm does not handle ADA violation cases, the issue of how cruise lines treat or, in this case, mistreat customers is of particular interest to me.   How any particular corporation treats the handicapped and elderly is ultimately the greatest reflective of the ethics and core values of the company.

We asked Royal Caribbean for its side of the story but the cruise line refused to respond.

Ironically, in February we reported on this cruise line exceeding a disabled passenger’s expectations (admittedly only after a few disastrous attempts).  Consider reading Celebrity Cruises Provides Perfect Cruise for Visually Impaired Guest.

Readers, what do you believe is the cruise line with the best (or worst) reputation for accommodating the needs of disabled passengers? 

Let us hear from you.  Please leave a comment below.  

April 13, 2011 Update:  Cruise Critic has an article with Celebrity’s spin on the story – "Disabled Cruise Passenger Ordered Off Celebrity Ship During Charter."  The article says that the cruise line has a policy that passengers with special needs must be self-sufficient and, if need be, travel with a companion to provide assistance with eating, dressing, toileting or lifting. I initially did not see any such language on Celebrity’s web site or in its "Special Needs" section. Under a section called "Outstanding Service," the cruise line says: With one staff member for nearly every two guests, Celebrity’s personal service anticipates your every need. Unobtrusively. Intuitively. So you’ll feel restored and relaxed–effortlessly. In your stateroom . . ."

A reader brought the answer to the question "Can I Travel Alone?" in the Frequently Asked Questions site to my attention.  However, this is not a term or condition in the passenger ticket and is just an "answer" to a "frequently asked question" and of no legal effect.  I see no terms and conditions stating that the cruise line can send a disabled passenger off the ship for not reading a "frequently asked question."   

In any event, why kick a 66 year old disabled passenger off of a cruise under these circumstances?

Where is the compassion people?

Although Cruise Critic quotes the cruise line calling the incident "regrettable," and the company which chartered the cruise ship uses the phrase "terribly unfortunate," it looks like their regret for Mr. Kesney’s misfortune stops short of reimbursing him a penny. 

April 18, 2011 Update:  Read our updated article: Celebrity Cruises and Disabled Passenger Exchange Threats – Are Celebrity’s Cruise Ships ADA Compliant?


Photo credit:  WXYZ ABC-7 Farmington Michigan