Passenger sues Royal Caribbean over Anthem of the Seas storm

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

A cruise passenger is suing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. after a storm battered the Anthem of the Seas ship earlier this month with hurricane-force winds and 30-foot waves.

The ship left New Jersey on Feb. 6 on a seven-day trip to Florida and the Caribbean, despite weather forecasts of a winter storm along its route, the suit claims. About 6,100 people — 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members — were aboard when the storm rocked the ship the next day in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Carolinas.

At least four people sustained minor injuries. Passengers also reported damages in their staterooms and along the vessel’s public areas.

Lawyer Michael A. Winkleman, of Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman PA in Miami, filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Miami for New Jersey resident Frank DeLuca. It seeks class action status on behalf of all passengers.

“Royal Caribbean knowingly and intentionally sailed into what was essentially a hurricane,” Winkleman said during a news conference Thursday. “And they did that knowing that they were putting 4,000 people’s lives at risks. It’s our opinion that it was a decision largely motivated by money, and we think that they were negligent in that conduct — in fact, grossly negligent in that conduct.”

Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said via email Thursday that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The National Weather Service’s Ocean Prediction Center had issued an alert for a strong storm four days in advance. Winkleman argues that Royal Caribbean decided to cruise on because it wanted to stay on schedule and get to its ports, “because that’s how they make money.”

Winkleman said the lawsuit seeks punitive damages to punish Royal Caribbean for its decision, but a specific dollar amount has not been determined. About 75 people have contacted the law firm, including several from Florida, Winkleman said. Most are from the Northeast, he said.

Lawrence B. Brennan, an adjunct professor of maritime law at Fordham University School of Law in New York, said even though a storm may be predicted at sea, it isn’t necessarily going to lead to a decision against a ship.

“It’s a complex combination of navigation and meteorology as well as naval architecture,” Brennan said. He expects questions will arise regarding decisions from the captain, the ship owner, management, what was known and the proposed course.

When the storm hit Anthem of the Seas, the captain confined passengers to their cabins overnight as winds howled outside.

“While confined to their staterooms for approximately 12 hours, passengers were holding onto their beds and/or whatever they could find in order to keep from falling due to the severe crashing of waves and listing of the vessel,” the lawsuit says.

“Furniture was overturned and tossed throughout the vessel; broken glass littered all levels of the vessel; a portion of the ceiling collapsed; elevators became inoperable; waves crashed through open and/or shattered balcony doors; and water rushed in through numerous other areas of the vessel.”

Royal Caribbean acknowledged after the incident that the storm identified gaps in its planning system and the company was strengthening its storm avoidance policy.

by: Miriam Valverde via sun-sentinel.com