“And if the wind is right, you can sail away
And find tranquility.”
Christopher Cross may have found tranquility when his song “Sailing” topped the charts in August 1980 and sailed on to win multiple Grammys, including Song of the Year.
The passengers in the following injury cases, though, may have just ended up crossed by the time they finished sailing.
You may think twice the next time you decide to crisscross the seas on a cruise ship.
Cork gets in your eye
Uncorking a bottle of champagne is often a celebratory act involving tears of joy. But for Robert Marchetta of New York, it meant a cork flying straight into his right eye.
The cork-in-eye incident happened on board the cruise liner Celebrity Edge on February 2, 2023, as it wrapped up its 11-night Southern Caribbean adventure. In his lawsuit, Mr. Marchetta claimed that a champagne cork burst through its “wire cage” and landed a bullseye right on his eye. The flyaway cork caused “serious and permanent” injury that led to Mr. Marchetta experiencing “pain, mental and emotional distress, and anguish,” a ton of medical expenses, physical inconvenience, and a soured ability to savor life’s pleasures. Marchetta blames the cruise line for negligence, seeking $75,000 in damages.
The legal documents regarding the incident do not mention if Marchetta promptly sought onboard medical assistance or even the identity of the person responsible for uncorking the bottle. Because the specifics of the incident are unclear, it raises questions about the events leading to the accident and whether it could have been prevented.
One hopes Marchetta and the ship’s parent company, Celebrity Cruises, could see eye to eye and settle the matter amicably. That would be a reason to celebrate, minus a cork projectile.
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together
Most people fully recover several days after being infected with norovirus (aka stomach bug or stomach flu). But because it’s contagious, a norovirus outbreak can easily happen in highly congested environments like cruise ships.
On one hand, the number of norovirus cases on cruise ships has been steadily declining since 2015, and during the pandemic, there were zero cases due to limited cruises and heightened sanitation protocols. On the other hand, lifting the risk advisory on cruise travel resulted in a surge of cruise passengers. Consequently, in 2023, the number of norovirus outbreaks spiked dramatically for the first time in over 10 years.
Can passengers who got sick from a norovirus outbreak onboard sue the cruise company? It depends on whether they can prove that the cruise line’s negligence led to the passengers getting sick.
Like the case of Julie McLean-Phillips and her sister, Vivienne Trudgeon, who set sail on the Sun Princess on December 5, 2016. Ten days into the cruise, Ms. Trudgeon suffered severe stomach flu. The room she shared with her sister stank of vomit and diarrhea, but the staff didn’t offer the sisters a different room. After a few days, Ms. McLean-Phillips got sick too. In her affidavit, she experienced “uncontrolled vomiting and explosive diarrhea” like her sister.
Ms. McLean-Phillips sued the cruise company, seeking a complete refund and damages for the discomfort, stress, and letdown she and her sister experienced. Sadly, their sailing adventure was less “sea” and more “sick.”
Who takes the fall?
In July 2019, tragedy struck when 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand fell from a window of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship while it was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Chloe was in the children’s play area with her grandfather, Salvatore Anello. He lifted her to what he thought was a closed window. It turned out to be open; Chloe slipped through her grandfather’s hands, plummeting 11 stories to her death.
Mr. Anello was charged with negligent homicide. At first, he pleaded not guilty, repeatedly insisting that he didn’t know the window was open. But the cruise company released surveillance footage showing Anello leaning out the window before lifting his granddaughter. Anello eventually changed his plea to avoid imprisonment. He was sentenced to three years probation.
Meanwhile, Chloe’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean, asserting negligence in maintaining open windows near a children’s play area without adequate warnings. A federal judge in Florida dismissed the lawsuit in July 2021, ruling that Chloe’s death was due to Mr. Anello’s actions rather than any negligence on the part of the cruise line.
However, two years after the dismissal, an Atlanta federal appeals court ruled to permit the Wiegands’ negligence lawsuit against Royal Caribbean to proceed. In a 21-page decision, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said the jurors may find that Royal Caribbean knew the risk of children falling through open windows because there were protective railings and warnings on their ships instructing passengers not to climb over them. The court also emphasized that the jurors should consider whether Royal Caribbean could have reasonably anticipated an adult holding an infant near a window.
If the Wiegands win their lawsuit, Mr. Anello may cease to be the fall guy.
Sail away, sail away, sail away
Don’t be afraid to sail the seas. But should your trip unexpectedly go south, it’s best to seek help from our experts in personal injury and family law at Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams.
Contact our team for the expertise and assistance you need, or visit our office in Renton if you’re in Washington State.