No class action for cruise-ship passengers

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Passengers from a rough leg aboard the Norwegian Dawn will pursue cases individually, say lawyers

Passengers from a rough leg aboard the Norwegian Dawn will pursue cases individually, say lawyers

A federal judge in Miami has ruled that 2,000 passengers aboard the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn, which was damaged in rough seas off Charleston, S.C., in April 2005, cannot sue Norwegian Cruise Lines for damages as a class. Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, in a 20-page decision, noted that not all of the passengers suffered equally and that some say they were uninjured in the incident that occurred during a gale about 120 miles offshore.

“We are pleased and gratified with Judge Altonaga’s decision that the lawsuit is not appropriate for class-action status,” says Colin Veitch, Norwegian Cruise Lines president, in a press release. “From the outset, this frivolous lawsuit has existed only in the minds of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.”

While the cruise line hailed the ruling as a victory, attorneys representing several hundred of the passengers say they will pursue a jury trial in the case. One of those attorneys, Brian J. Levy, says that it “absolutely would have been nice to get a class-action certification” from Altonaga. “The case still goes on,” he says. “The plaintiffs will have their own individual cases. It doesn’t decrease the strength of their case.”

On April 16, 2005, during a return trip to New York from a Caribbean tour, the Bahamian-registered Norwegian Dawn found itself in a storm with 44-foot waves and high winds. After having slowed to steering speed, the 965-foot, 3-year-old ship’s bow dove into a wall of water. Early accounts suggested it was a 70-foot wave, but some investigators believed the ship’s stern was lifted on one wave, causing the bow to drive down into the sea. The impact caused damage to the ship up to the 10th deck, including the flooding of two forward-facing cabins and water damage along some hallways, according to investigators.

Both the Bahamian Maritime Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident and found no fault with the cruise line or the ship’s captain. The NTSB found that the probable cause of the damage and injuries to several passengers was “waves breaking over the bow during the ship’s unavoidable encounter with severe weather and heavy seas.”

Levy says he and passengers’ lawyers from two other firms, in New Jersey and Florida, believe the NTSB report on the incident was “premature” and that the Bahamian investigation had predictable results. “The Bahamian Authority has a tremendous interest in not hurting the cruise lines, which they rely on for tourism,” he says. He calls Altonaga’s ruling an expected decision and, noting that the passengers have their own expert witnesses, says the individual suits will be pursued “at any cost.”