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Justia Lawyer Rating for Glenn J. Holzberg

Royal Caribbean May Be Liable for Injuries and Deaths From Volcano Eruption

On December 9, 2019, the White Island Volcano erupted, near Tauranga, New Zealand, killing at least sixteen people, with many missing and injured, including at least 7 cruise passengers traveling on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Ovation of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean, as well as all major Cruise Lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line, profit from their passengers taking shore excursions in its ports of call. These shore excursions are sold both on Royal’s website, before the cruise, and directly to the passengers at the dedicated shore excursion desk onboard each ship.

Royal Caribbean devotes considerable resources to promote and sell these shore excursions and earns substantial revenue. Following this tragedy many questions will be asked such as: Why were Royal Caribbean’s passengers allowed to go anywhere near this known active volcano? What Royal Caribbean knew, or certainly should have known, about the reported increase in seismic activity on White Island? Why were the excursions not canceled, despite these warnings?

Royal Caribbean, and the other Cruise Lines, include language in its tickets which they claim creates an independent contractor relationship between the passenger, and the shore excursion operator. RCCL and others, attempt to insulate the Cruise Line from liability for injuries or death. For these reasons, Shore Excursion lawsuits are challenging. However, when deaths and tragic injuries occur, there are legal methods that can be explored to obtain fair compensation for their victims. RCCL can be liable for failure to take action before foreseeable events, such as this volcano eruption, where as here, scientists were aware of an uptick in volcanic activity on White Island before the eruption, White Island is known to be an active undersea volcano, making it an exciting shore excursion destination, but a known hazardous and risky activity.

Royal Caribbean will likely claim the eruption was an Act of God, which may be used as a legal defense to lawsuits for the injuries and/or deaths caused by this volcano. This defense known as “force majeure” is found within the cruise ticket agreement- that if a natural occurring condition like a hurricane or volcanoes causes injury or death- then RCCL is not liable. The legal standard requires that the event be unpredictable or legally “an intervening and superseding cause” for which the cruise line would not be liable. However, this volcano eruption was foreseeable, and predicted, and should have been known to Royal Caribbean. Therefore, passengers who are injured can pursue lawsuits and hold Royal Caribbean liable for the resulting injuries and deaths caused by their failure to warn and take action to minimize risk of harm posed by this foreseeable natural event.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line have been sued for foreseeable acts of God, including hurricanes, storm force winds, and high waves that were forecasted days before these natural events, which caused serious injuries to passengers and crew members; for example, Hurricane Hermine and the RCCL Anthem of the Seas cruise in February 2016, and a bomb cyclone on NCL’s Breakaway, early January 2018 cruise.

There has been considerable misinformation reported, for example, I read a quote that “cruise lines partner with shore excursion operators’ because they don’t have specific knowledge about seismic activity or volcano eruptions, in New Zealand” because Royal is in the business of running a cruise line”. Millions of dollars of revenue figures dispute that claim as excursions are an integral part of cruise business and its annual profits.

This was a foreseeable event that should have been known to Royal Caribbean that in the interest of the safety of their passengers should have cancelled this shore excursion to avoid the known volcanic activity. This volcanic event is a known, particularly hazardous activity which may increase the scope of liability to Royal Caribbean.

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