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March 6, 2014

Passengers in court over disabled ship

MIAMI — About three dozen passengers who sailed on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise ship that drifted at sea for days are hoping to collect thousands of dollars apiece as a result of lingering medical and mental problems they say were caused by their nightmarish experience.

Their lawsuit, the first to go to trial since the February 2013 cruise, is being vigorously defended by Miami-based Carnival Corp., which contends the passengers cannot show such problems as kidney stones, post-traumatic stress disorder and scratchy throats are linked to unsanitary conditions or the fire that disabled the engine.

At stake is perhaps millions of dollars, as well as the industry’s restrictive policy — printed on each ticket — that governs the kinds of lawsuits passengers can file. Two maritime law experts also said the trial already set an important precedent in cruise line cases when the judge ruled Carnival was negligent simply because the fire broke out, regardless of the reason.

“Ships shouldn’t catch fire in the middle of the sea for no reason,” said Robert Peltz, a Miami maritime attorney not involved in the Triumph case.

Passenger Debra Oubre, of Friendswood, Texas, who said she has worked in cruise line shore operations and has enjoyed a dozen cruises, said she joined the suit to hold someone accountable.

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