Triumph suits add to CCL's woes

By Tom Stieghorst
CarnivalTriumph-TowIn the wake of the spoiled Carnival Triumph cruise, a number of passengers have filed lawsuits that will keep the story alive in the courts while the ship undergoes repairs.

Two prominent Miami maritime firms are split on the issue, with one launching a proposed class action suit and another saying that it isn’t worth the effort because Carnival would prevail.

At least three suits have been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, based in Miami where Carnival is headquartered. Another has been filed in federal court in Galveston, Texas, where the Triumph departed.

Carnival has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

A suit filed by the firm of Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman cites several problems with the Carnival Triumph’s propulsion systems in January as precursors to the fire that left the ship adrift.

“Notwithstanding said issues, Carnival knowingly decided to embark on the subject voyage,” the suit says.

Carnival has said that the January issues were unrelated to the fire.

The Lipcon firm is known for specializing in cruise ship and maritime cases.

But another Miami cruise specialist, James Walker, of Walker & O’Neill, has said he is unlikely to file a suit on behalf of Triumph passengers.

“Unless you have a serious physical injury or physical illness, families on the disabled cruise ship face an uphill climb proceeding with a lawsuit against Carnival for the inconvenience and unpleasant circumstances they suffered,” Walker wrote on his blog.

Damages for psychological distress or fear of illness are excluded in the terms of the ticket passengers buy, he wrote.

Carnival has refunded the cost of the cruise, extended a discount for a future cruise and is paying each passenger $500 in cash compensation.

After the passengers were disembarked, Carnival had the crippled Triumph moved to the BEA Systems yard in Mobile for repair. The cruise line has canceled cruises through April 13 while the work is being done.

The Bahamas Maritime Authority will lead the formal investigation of the fire with input from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board.

In a teleconference on Feb. 18, a Coast Guard official said that a leaking engine return line was the cause of the fire, allowing oil to spill on a hot surface, which then ignited.

Lt. Commander Teresa Hatfield said firefighters on the ship “did a very good job,” extinguishing the blaze.

After losing propulsion, Triumph drifted north with a current. Carnival has confirmed that a charter boat sent Feb. 10 to board a technical and guest relations support team lost track of the ship’s position and had to return to Mexico without a rendezvous.

Several agents said they expect the story to fade from public awareness with the disembarkation of the passengers, and they predicted that it won’t bring a premature end to the Wave season, as the fatal grounding of the Costa Concordia did last year.

Glenda Russe, a Cruise Planners franchisee in Louisville, Ky., said last week that she was very busy booking cruises.

Anne Scully, of McCabe World Travel, McLean, Va., said she had likewise seen no impact on cruise inquiries.

“I booked a group the day after the ship got back to port,” she said.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 
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