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  • Writer's picturePhil Griffis

Cruise Line Sued in Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

Passenger cruise lines are the frequent target of lawsuits. They have deep pockets and the number of things that can go badly wrong on recreational cruises is almost unlimited. On just one cruise several years ago we personally witnessed a bad fall, a nasty case of rotovirus (my kid) and an absolutely wild late night helicopter evacuation of a sick passenger, while we were still 100 miles out to sea.

A new class action lawsuit, filed in Miami against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) brings a new twist to these suits. According to unhappy passenger Nikki McIntosh, RCCL “effectively forced” ticket purchasing passengers to come to Texas while Harvey was bearing down on Galveston, so that the passengers could be ready to board in the event the line’s Liberty of the Seas decided to sail. In doing so, she claims, the line “forced hundreds of would be passengers…to be subjected to catastrophic flooding and potential loss of life.”

The ship was to depart on Sunday August 27th. Here is how she describes the timeline of those days:

August 24 (Thursday): RCCL contacts passengers to say the company was monitoring the storm, but intended to sail as scheduled.

August 25 (Friday): At noon on the day the rain started to fall, the Port of Galveston closed to all vessels. At 2:08 that afternoon RCCL announced that it would stick to its schedule of a Sunday departure, but would provide another update the following day. By 5:00 p.m. competitor Carnival had rerouted two ships headed to Galveston. Another ship, that was to arrive on Sunday (just like the Liberty of the Seas) spent the night in Cozumel. By that time, she claims, the National Hurricane Center had advised that the entire Texas coast was in the cone of danger for the storm.

August 26 (Saturday): At 1:40 p.m., RCCL Tweeted “Weather looking favorable tonight and tomorrow” and stated that they would provide an update at 7:00 p.m. Approximately 5 million people in Southeast Texas can confirm that, at 1:40 p.m. on Saturday the 26th, the weather was definitely not looking favorable.

By 10:15 that night RCCL (while rain like no one had ever seen before was falling) emailed its passengers stating that the Liberty would arrive at Port “later than originally scheduled”, and that boarding would take place on Monday.

August 27 (Sunday): At 10:29 a.m, while the first rescues were taking place inland, RCCL notified the passengers that the cruise would board later that day, noon and 3:00 p.m. The line offered passengers that chose to board a one day refund and a 25% credit on a future cruise. Those that chose not to take their lives in their hands were offered a 100% future cruise credit.

At 3:01 p.m. on Sunday RCCL finally cancelled the cruise, offering a 100% refund and a 25% future credit to all passengers.

According to Ms. McIntosh, all of this forced hundreds of passengers to risk coming to Houston/Galveston to wait out RCCL’s decision as to whether it would sail. As a result, the passengers were subjected to 5-6 days of being trapped in a state of emergency with limited food, water, electricity, etc.

Ms. McIntosh is asking the court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all of the passengers, and alleges that RCCL was negligent, and negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the passengers. You can read the full Complaint here. RCCL hasn’t yet responded.

To say the least I have mixed feelings about this one. In hindsight RCCL looks like idiots. And while we multi-hurricane veterans might laugh at people flying into a hurricane to catch a cruise, we need to remember that potential passengers in Canada, the Midwest and other non-tropical areas might not have had any concept of what they were getting into, and were relying on RCCL to be the best judge of whether to sail. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.


Phil Griffis obtained his first jury verdict in 1990, when he convinced a jury that a customer’s fall at his client’s store did not cause the customer’s aspiration pneumonia and stroke. In the years since he has continued to win in courtrooms across the State of Texas.

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