Dozens of the passengers who were aboard Carnival Cruise Line's Triumph last year when a fire left the ship disabled and adrift in the Gulf of Mexico without electricity and toilets have sued Carnival and spent the last several weeks in Miami's Federal Courthouse testifying in front of the Honorable Judge Donald Graham.
The non-jury trial is occurring in Miami because all of Carnival's tickets require any lawsuit to be filed here, regardless of where the incident occurred or where the passengers live.
On the other side of the courtroom is one of Carnival's elite defense lawyers, Curtis Maze. He has argued repeatedly on behalf of Carnival that the passenger-plaintiffs are not entitled to receive money for their alleged injuries because Carnival does not recognize claims for emotional injuries in the absence of physical injuries.
According to the Miami Herald, the plaintiffs are arguing that they suffer lingering medical and mental problems ranging from kidney stones and post-traumatic stress disorder to scratchy throats. Those plaintiffs include Debra Oubre, from Texas, who said she joined the Carnival lawsuit to hold someone accountable.
Initial Rulings in Favor of Carnival:
Judge Graham has already decided that the Triumph passengers can be reimbursed only for past and future medical costs that are conclusively and reasonably related to what happened on the Triumph. He has also struck any claims for punitive damages -- money that would be awarded not to compensate a plaintiff but rather to punish Carnival.
In its defense, Carnival put on several witnesses to contest the plaintiffs' allegations, such as Texan Some James Ede, who testified that the Triumph's crew kept passengers well-informed and hydrated. And they closed with Suzanne Vazquez, their likeable and talented in-house lawyer, who testified that the Triumph is currently Carnival's highest-rated vessel for customer service.
Carnival has been successful in resolving most of the Triumph claims without the need for a trial. However, there is a proposed class-action suit which seeks to combine the claims of the roughly 3,000 passengers aboard the ship -- contrary to the terms of Carnival's passenger ticket, which also prohibits class-action lawsuits by passengers.
The ramifications of this case will affect both the cruise industry and injured passengers in the future. How Judge Graham decides this case could either reinforce the seemingly bulletproof legal protection found in the small print of passenger tickets or, as I hope, poke a hole of light that will provide justice to these victims, as well as send a loud message to the cruise lines that they will be held accountable for all the harm they cause passengers when they put their profit ahead of their passengers' safety.