Update on Carnival Triumph - Lawsuits Filed, One First-Timer Weighs In

carnival triumphIt’s been just two weeks since the Carnival Triumph’s engine room fire on Feb. 10 left the Carnival Cruise Lines (www.goccl.com) ship without power 150 miles off the coast of Mexico.

Guests, who remained onboard for five days longer than expected, reported overflowing toilets, a lack of air conditioning, issues with food/water delivery and lack of elevator service, particularly difficult for guests unable to take stairs. 

The ship eventually reached the Port of Mobile, AL, and the ship's guests are now home. But not surprisingly, several lawsuits were filed late last week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

At least one of those lawsuits seeks class-action status for the more than 3,000 passengers onboard. CNN’s story about the first lawsuit filing is at www.cnn.com/2013/02/20/us/florida-carnival-triumph-lawsuit/index.html.

Another story published by USA Today on a second filing is at: www.usatoday.com/story/cruiselog/2013/02/18/carnival-triumph-cruise-lawsuit/1927447.

Carnival’s response? "We are unable to comment on pending litigation,” said Vance Gulliksen, a Carnival spokesperson.

Chances of Legal Success?

Some legal experts stress that it’s difficult for passengers to successfully sue any cruise line. Typically, before passengers board, they must “accept” the terms of the voyage documents, essentially an iron-clad legal contract that lays out procedures in the event of any voyage anomalies.

Generally, guests won't receive compensation in court for such issues as bad weather, mechanical break-downs, port substitutions and so on. Class action lawsuits are often prohibited.

Under certain conditions, cruise lines can be sued for injuries or deaths, but Carnival has publicly said there were no injuries or deaths for passengers or crew onboard Carnival Triumph.

That said, court documents for one passenger suing Carnival reported the guest had to be treated with intravenous fluids in an emergency room upon return to Houston.

One attorney told the Star Tribune - www.startribune.com/nation/192267781.html - that being able to show a history of mechanical issues for the ship also could be favorable for the passengers in court.

One lawsuit allegedly claims the Carnival Triumph had propulsion and mechanical issues on several voyages prior to the accident.

Separately, Jim Walker, a Florida maritime attorney, has written an insightful two-part blog about the issue; he indicates that it could be rough going for cruise line passengers who seek compensation through the courts.

Walker's blog is at: www.cruiselawnews.com/2013/02/articles/fires-1/carnival-triumph-cruise-from-hell-here-come-the-lawsuits

As for the court of public opinion, passengers almost unanimously gushed words of praise for the crew members who endured the same conditions as guests but kept smiling, serving and trying to make guests comfortable.

One Passenger's Perspective

Passengers generally were not as complimentary for the line's corporate response for guests. Many provided scathing remarks to the media on site in Mobile, AL, about their horrific experience.

Interestingly, though, one first-hand report has surfaced that adds a bit different perspective.

On CruiseCritic.com's review page for Carnival Triumph, one first-time cruise passenger who identified himself as Scott in cabin 8-397 (which changed post-fire to “the foredeck, level 6”) says “I would get back on another Carnival boat tomorrow, and I fully intend to be on the Triumph as she makes sail for the first time after her repairs are completed.”

He equates the experience to camping and stresses that it wasn't that bad. He says many other guests were responsible for their own issues like overflowing toilets because they didn't follow crew directions.

He also says some fellow guests were ill-equipped to deal with such a crisis and others had too much sense of entitlement.

Most interesting, he says those famous cucumber-and-onion sandwiches, which some fellow guests ranted to the media about, were that way not because the line created them that way; he reports that other guests stole the meat out of those sandwiches before others further back in line were served.

This Carnival cruise was his first, but won’t be his last, he pledges. For this first timer's report, go to this link, and scroll down to the reviews to find his complete report: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=115705.

Agent Reaction

The industry learned after Costa Concordia last year that while repeat cruisers weren’t deterred from that negative event, an accident in which more than 30 people died, first-timers were a different case.

With that in mind, last week some industry experts cautioned that first-timers might be a particularly tough sell for cruise bookings this month. But after a week, here are two opinions published within the “Travel Agency Best Practices” group on Facebook.

Travel agent Gloria Hobbins from Global Village Travels (www.globalvillagetravels.com) from Plainfield, NJ, said: “It usually takes me all year to sell five Carnival cruises and usually from the same folk. As of this morning, I have four from different clients. People don't seem to be swayed by the Triumph disaster.”

Her clients are asking about the incident but she says they're not changing their travel plans. “Seems to me that since 9/11 travelers are willing to take on some more levels of risk,” Robbins believes.

Also in that same Facebook discussion, Rusti Basham Walter, owner of Personalized Travel & Tours, Roy, UT, wrote: “I sold six cabins on Carnival this week to four new clients. No one even mentioned the Triumph.”

She says lots of people have asked her if cruise prices have dropped, but those are the ones that aren't going to book anyway.

What's your perspective? Have your clients expressed reservations either about Carnival or cruising in general? Or, are they road warriors ready to book? Let us know in the comments below and on our Facebook page at www.travelagentcentral.com/TravelAgentMagazine