The Carnival Triumph docked Thursday, February 14, 2013, in Mobile, Alabama after drifting nearly powerless in the Gulf of Mexico for five days. Passengers described the ordeal as extremely unpleasant citing overflowing toilets, stifling heat, and more than lengthy waits for nourishment as main contributors. For these reasons, it’s not hard to believe that Cassie Terry, of Brazoria County, Texas, filed suit within hours of docking.
A person not trained in law may think the passengers of the Carnival Triumph stand to get rich as a result of these circumstances. In all likelihood, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I presume a question on many minds as related to this story is: “What is Carnival Corp’s liability?”
Although I dare not attempt to imagine a more objectionable way to spend what was supposed to be a vacation, the truth is that Carnival’s liability is probably very limited. In deciding to vacation on a ship such as the Triumph, the individual and the company enter a contract whereby the individual pays and the company issues a ticket. While this ticket reserves the individual the right to use and enjoy the cruise ship itself, it also contains some of the most onerous and one-sided terms and conditions that exist in contract law. These terms and conditions make it extremely difficult and near impossible to sue these companies. Likely terms and conditions include: (1) a choice of forum clause – making it inconvenient to sue, (2) an arbitration clause – making it hard to sue, (3) and a waiver of class actions clause – making the type of recovery that will actually affect Carnival unlikely.
It is not a secret that the size of a plaintiff’s recovery is very often based on the size and extent of damages they suffered. In this case, many, if not all, of the would-be plaintiffs suffered nothing more than an inconvenience. This fact, without even considering the one-sided nature of the contract, makes it very difficult for them to recover anything but nominal sums of money. For this reason, attorneys taking on these cases will have to get creative in their calculation of damages. For example, Cassie Terry’s attorney has stated that Terry was nauseated and ran a fever, adding that no one can know what may manifest from her exposure to the conditions on the ship. Unfortunately for Terry, though, these damages are dubious at best and may not hold up in court.
Carnival has offered passengers $500, reimbursed transportation and some onboard costs, and a credit toward a future cruise. It’s hard to believe, but this might be the best deal that uninjured passengers of the Carnival Triumph can hope for. As Jim Walker, a South Miami, Florida lawyer, stated, “[i]t’s more than any attorney could get for them.”