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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Will cruise passengers be victimized again – by forced arbitration


As they suffered in sweltering heat, walked through sewage and defecated in plastic bags, some of the passengers aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Triumph probably were thinking “At least when we finally get home we can sue the b-----ds.”

The Carnival Triumph in happier times
(including working toilets)
Well, they can try – and some already have.  But the U.S. Supreme Court has made it a lot harder than it should be. 

It appears that Carnival is far better prepared to prevent lawsuits than it was to contain the damage aboard the Triumph.  In the fine print that comes with every ticket, there is a clause that bars most lawsuits.  Instead, passengers must go into forced arbitration.  In addition, when passengers buy a ticket for a Carnival Cruise they give up their right to be part of a class-action suit – though again, one law firm is going to try anyway.

As we explained in a previous post to this blog, and in our 2011 report, Arbitration Activism, this means the deck is stacked against the passengers at every turn.  And in keeping with its role as “The 1% Court” the Supreme Court majority has upheld forced arbitration, and the ban on class actions, in one outrageous case after another.

The Carnival Cruise fine print makes exceptions for individual suits in cases of “personal injury, illness or death.”  In one of the suits brought so far, a passenger cites severe dehydration and bruises suffered while on “aggressive food lines.”    

But passengers whose suffering extended only to enduring heat, stench, limited food and no toilets may be out of luck.  As for the validity of any class action, presumably Carnival could appeal all the way to the Supreme Court – and we know what that is likely to mean.

IT’S EVEN WORSE FOR THE CREW

There is another group that endured worse suffering than the passengers.  As Josh Eidelson points out in Salon, even when nothing goes wrong, conditions on cruise ships can be hell for the crew.  And there is almost nothing they can do about it.

Citing the work of Prof. Ross Klein, the author of Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations, Eidelson writes: 
Carnival is technically registered in Panama, a country whose laws Klein charges “have been changed to satisfy Carnival’s needs and interests. Because Carnival means a fair amount of money to their national treasury.” Effectively, for cruise workers, says Klein, “there aren’t any real labor regulations.” (He noted that one lawsuit that was brought against Carnival in the U.S. ended with a settlement requiring future such disputes be pursued through an arbitration system, effectively requiring potential worker plaintiffs to shell out tens of thousands of dollars in transportation and legal fees.)[Emphasis added.]

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