Carnival Triumph: First lawsuit filed in cruise ship fiasco

The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is moored at The cruise ship Carnival Triumph is moored at a dock in Mobile, Ala. The ship, which docked Thursday in Mobile after drifting nearly powerless in the Gulf of Mexico for five days, was moved Friday from the cruise terminal to a repair facility. (Feb. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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After four days on the crippled Carnival Triumph with overflowing toilets, stifling heat and hours-long waits for food, at least one passenger is seeking legal revenge. But lawyers familiar with cruise ship lawsuits suggest angry passengers should think twice before rushing to the courts.

Unless passengers suffered major injuries or losses due to cruise operator negligence, they would be better off accepting the compensation offered by Carnival Corp., they said.

The Carnival Triumph was towed into port in Mobile, Ala., late on Thursday. Within hours, Cassie Terry, of Brazoria County, Texas, sued in federal court in Miami, describing the ship as "a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell" and seeking damages from Carnival Corp.

Terry said she was in constant fear of contracting serious illness from raw sewage spilling from nonfunctioning toilets. She endured food lines that were hours long, only to receive spoiled rations, according to the lawsuit.

But Terry's account and those of other passengers do not describe the type of injuries or harm that could lead to a successful lawsuit, according to attorneys who specialize in suing cruise companies.

Conditions might have been disgusting "but get over it," said Miriam Lebental, a San Pedro, Calif., lawyer who specializes in cruise ship injuries.

Like other attorneys in the field, she said she would not be interested in taking a case unless it involved a major injury and negligence, such as a passenger breaking his or her neck in a fall down an unlit stairwell.

Terry declined to comment. Her attorney, Brenton Allison of Pearland, Texas, said he understood the other lawyers' skepticism.

But he described his client as still nauseated and running a fever and added, "I don't know what may manifest from her exposure to those conditions."

Carnival has offered passengers $500, reimbursed transportation and many onboard costs and given them a credit toward a future cruise equal to the amount they paid for the vacation. Jim Walker, a South Miami, Fla., lawyer for cruise passengers, said the 3,200 who endured the Triumph mess would be wise to take the money.

"It's more than any attorney could get for them," he said.

The industry uses tickets, which are binding contracts, to limit their liability and define how a passenger can sue, the lawyers said.

The tickets have "the most onerous one-sided terms and conditions," said Walker. "It's difficult to sue them."

Carnival did not respond to a request for comment.

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