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Stranded cruise ship's passengers need major injury, loss to sue, lawyers say

AP
Maria Hernandez, of Angleton, Texas, a passenger from the disabled Carnival Triumph cruise ship, tears up as she describes the ordeal to reporters after arriving by bus at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The ship had been idled for nearly a week in the Gulf of Mexico following an engine room fire. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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By Reuters
Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

After four days on a crippled cruise ship with overflowing toilets, stifling heat and hours-long waits for food, at least one passenger from the Carnival Triumph 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 other losses due to negligence by the cruise operator, they would be better off accepting compensation from Carnival Corp., they said.

The Carnival Triumph was towed into port in Mobile, Ala., late Thursday, giving disembarking passengers an opportunity to speak out about their ordeal.

Within hours, Cassie Terry of Brazoria County, Texas, filed a lawsuit 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.

As the ship listed as it was being towed, Terry was in constant fear of contracting serious illness from raw sewage spilling from non-functioning toilets. She had to wade through human feces to reach 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, an attorney from San Pedro, Calif., who specializes in cruise ship injuries.

Like other attorneys who pursue cruise companies, Lebental said she would not be interested in taking a case unless it involved a major injury and negligence, such as a passenger breaking their neck during a fall down an unlit stairwell.

There have been no such reports from the Triumph.

Terry declined to comment. Her attorney, Brenton Allison of Gilman & Allison in Pearland, Texas, said he understood that other attorneys were skeptical about taking cases from passengers, but his client was nauseated and running a fever.

“I don't know what may manifest from her exposure to those conditions,” he said, adding that Terry would decline the compensation offered.

Carnival has offered passengers $500, reimbursed their transportation and many onboard costs and given them a credit toward a future cruise equal to the amount they paid for the Triumph vacation.

Jim Walker, a premier lawyer for cruise passengers, said passengers would be wise to take the money.

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