‘Cruise ship nightmare’ passengers can sue

Posted: 24th July 2012

Cruise shipPassengers who say they suffered a range of injuries when a cruise ship was lashed by high winds during a nightmare Atlantic voyage have had her compensation hopes boosted by a High Court ruling.

Sixteen of the claimants were passengers on board cruise ship, the MV Athena, when it was struck by a storm in mid-Atlantic in September 2006. The seventeenth claimant is the former partner of a retired doctor who died when he fell down a flight of stairs during the bad weather.

Surviving passengers’ injuries are said to range from cuts and bruises, suffered when they were thrown from their bunks, to psychiatric sequelae, including flashbacks and intrusive memories. The value of each of the claims against the ship’s owners and operators (the defendants) is limited to about £40,000 by the provisions of the Athens Convention.

During a preliminary High Court hearing, the defendants argued that, almost six years after the incident, memories have faded and witnesses have become unavailable, making it impossible for a fair trial of the claims to take place.

However, Mr Justice Teare refused to strike out the damages claims. Although the delays in pursuing the claims were ‘at the very least unsatisfactory’, the judge said the prejudice to the defendants was not so serious as to justify dismissing the passengers’ claims prior to a full hearing.

The claimants were on board the MV Athena for a 24-day ‘Maple Leaf Cruise’ from Falmouth, Cornwall, to New York, New England and Canada when the storm hit. Their lawyers have made 16 allegations of negligence against the defendants, including an alleged failure to warn passengers to secure their mattresses and to stay in their cabins during the bad weather.

The claims, which will now proceed to a full hearing, are being defended by the ship’s owners and operators who each deny liability.