JP Pritchard

Carnival Cruise Lines Now Faces Expected Wave of Lawsuits

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(Credit: AP)

(Credit: AP)

Associated Press – Despite having their feet back on solid ground and making their way home, passengers from the Carnival Triumph cruise ship are still fuming over their five days of squalor on the stricken ship and the cruise ship company is likely to be hit with a wave of lawsuits.

“I think people are going to file suits and rightly so,” maritime trial attorney John Hickey told ABC News. “I think, frankly, that the conduct of Carnival has been outrageous from the get-go.”

Hickey, a Miami-based attorney, said his firm has already received “quite a few” inquiries from passengers who just got off the ship early Friday morning.

“What you have here is a) negligence on the part of Carnival and b) you have them, the passengers, being exposed to the risk of actual physical injury,” Hickey said.

The attorney said that whether passengers can recover monetary compensation will depend on maritime law and the 15-pages of legal “gobbledygook,” as Hickey described it, that passengers signed before boarding, but “nobody really agrees to.”

One of the ticket conditions is that class action lawsuits are not allowed, but Hickey said there is a possibility that could be voided when all the conditions of the situation are taken into account.

One of the passengers already thinking about legal action is Tammy Hilley, a mother of two, who was on a girl’s getaway with her two friends when a fire in the ship’s engine room disabled the vessel’s propulsion system and knocked out most of its power.

“I think that’s a direction that our families will talk about, consider and see what’s right for us,” Hilley told Good Morning America when asked if she would be seeking legal action.

While she said that she does not want to be greedy or exploit the situation, she does not feel that Carnival’s $500 compensation is enough for the trauma passengers suffered.

“You talk about the emotional trauma and just last night, feeling what we went through last night while we were on land with our families and our insides just trembling,” she said. “I don’t think it begins to even say what is needed here.”

In addition to the money, passengers will receive a full refund for the cruise, transportation expenses and vouchers for another cruise.

“We made our own nest [on deck] because we were just too terrified to go inside because of the smells and the germs, so we just banded together and made our own little nest and just survived,” Hilley’s friend Ann Barlow said.

Her friend Carolyn Klam said she got a stomach virus from drinking bad water once the power went out and friend Tammy Hilley said her cell phone was stolen Friday morning as the boat came into port.

“I think going back to our room was kind of traumatic and seeing that from day one we had no home, we were homeless,” Hilley said. “We would go downstairs below deck and your feet could feel the sludge that you were walking through. The smells and the liquids draining from the ceiling and the stories of people sleeping in the hallways and the sanitary bags in the hallway, that was traumatic to just watch it start piling up.”

The more than 4,000 passengers and crew began to disembark from the damaged ship around 10:15 p.m. CT Thursday in Mobile, Ala., amid cheers and tears. The last passenger left the ship at 1 a.m. CT, according to Carnival’s Twitter handle.

Approximately 100 buses were waiting to take passengers on the next stage of their journey. Passengers had the option to take a bus ride to New Orleans or Galveston, Texas, where the ill-fated ship’s voyage began. From there, passengers will take flights home, which Carnival said it would pay for.

Inside the buses, Carnival handed out bags of food that included French fries, chicken nuggets, honey mustard barbecue sauce and apples.

Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill praised the ship’s crew and told reporters that he was headed on board to apologize directly to its passengers shortly before the Carnival Triumph arrived in Mobile.

“I know the conditions on board were very poor,” Cahill said Thursday night. “I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests [to] that. …Clearly, we failed in this particular case.”

Luckily no one was hurt in the fire that triggered the power outage, but many passengers aboard the 900-foot colossus said they smelled smoke and were living in fear.

Carnival’s original plan was to tow the damaged ship to Progreso, Mexico, because it was the closest port, but by the time tugboats arrived, the ship had drifted about 90 miles north due to strong currents, putting it nearly equidistant to Mobile, Ala.

Carnival added that it has canceled a dozen planned voyages for the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before an engine-room fire left it powerless in the Gulf of Mexico.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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