No one was killed or seriously injured aboard the cruise ship Carnival Triumph after an engine room fire and loss of power on Feb. 10 stopped the boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. After enduring five days of dreadful conditions including little food and backed up bathrooms, a weary crew and 3,143 passengers were towed into the port of Mobile and an investigation into the accident began.
John Arthur Eaves Jr. is a partner with Eaves Law Firm in Jackson and has represented international plaintiffs from as far away as Italy and Ukraine. He has degrees from the University of Mississippi and UM School of Law and was the 2007 Democratic candidate for Governor of Mississippi.
Last year, Eaves represented victims of the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia after it crashed off the Italian coast killing 32 passengers including two Americans. In his most recent case against Carnival Corp., Eaves sued in district court last week on behalf of a Texas woman who traveled on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph.
Eaves spoke with MBJ on the phone last week on his way to Mobile to meet with Carnival Triumph families.
Tell us about your work last year representing victims of the Carnival ship Costa Concordia?
We represent about 150 of those passengers, and we have a case now that’s filed in California with a trial date of July 23, so we’re in the discovery process of finding out all the systems that went wrong on Costa Concordia. Everybody has heard about the captain: the captain was trying to communicate with the wheelman to turn to avoid the rocks and the wheelman couldn’t speak English sufficiently or Italian to understand the captain’s instructions.
It was a masterful job on the part of Carnival to avoid responsibility itself because they allowed the captain to go off course many times before with no consequences or rebuke. The other problem is the crew wasn’t trained properly, they didn’t know how to get people off the ship. The third thing is the design of these vessels is unstable, they’re top heavy — very easy to turn over.
Have you talked with anyone from Carnival Triumph since they got back?
I’ve talked with family members, and they have called me and found out all the information they need. The families mostly were just ready to get off that boat. They’re very upset, shocked. We as an American public have begun to expect accountability and responsibility and a certain level of safety. It’s just shocking whenever they got out there and realized how uncontrollable the situation actually was.
Do the passengers have any damages case at all?
You can’t sue for any kind of mental anguish all you can do is sue for physical injury and some lost economic damages. They also have no class-action provision. Strangely enough, they also have a provision that you can’t have a jury trial, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. A court will have to sort this all out.
The cruise industry is the only industry that has been allowed special rights that no other industry in the U.S. enjoys. They’ve enjoyed some ability to contract away the responsibility. In this case some of these contracts between the shipping companies and the passengers have been upheld on where you can file the case and some other provisions. It does not allow that in the airline industry which we think is a good example. This is a window of opportunity to prevent the next Titanic or Costa Concordia.
What will you do over the next weeks relating to the Triumph case?
Over the next week we will be working over the lawsuit part of it. We know that Carnival is responsible but there are other folks who may be responsible so we will be investigating that and filing this claim. The other thing we have done is I wrote a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano begging her to require that all Carnival ships that are currently in U.S. ports be required to undergo an in-depth inspection by the appropriate government agency to make sure they aren’t at risk. This accident could have been so much worse. If the winds had been intense, if the sea had been rough then this ship would have been in real danger of capsizing. Capsizing in deep water would have been another Titanic.