A Million Dollar lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises claims that the cruise line mishandled the corpse of a deceased passenger sailing on Celebrity Equinox, putting the body in a drink cooler and not attending further to it until it eventually started to decompose.
The captain of the Equinox or his crew apparently offered the family not to disembark together with the body in Puerto Rico and instead return to Florida at which point the body was heavily decomposed.
This is the first time I’m hearing about such a case as cruise ships usually have more professional “accommodations” for the corpse of passengers who took their last voyage and it’s not uncommon for the often senior clientele to pass away on the high seas.
Using a beverage cooler (apparently a walk-in one, not a party cooler you take camping) as a makeshift morgue or storage facility doesn’t fit the criteria of professional and sanitary handling for obvious reasons.
Here is an article by ABC News explaining the lawsuit and circumstances:
A widow and her family are suing Celebrity Cruises for allegedly mishandling her husband’s body after he died while they were on a ship last year, saying it was left to decompose and they suffered extreme emotional trauma.
After Marilyn Jones’ husband of 55 years, Robert Jones, died of a heart attack Aug. 15 onboard the Celebrity Equinox, his body was stored for nearly a week inside a walk-in cooler normally used for beverages instead of a properly chilled morgue as she was promised, according to the federal lawsuit filed in Florida.
That left the body bloated and green, and the family was unable to have an open-coffin funeral “which was a long standing family custom and was what his family had desired,” the lawsuit says. Marilyn Jones, her two daughters and three grandchildren are seeking $1 million in damages.
Celebrity Cruises declined to comment, citing the case’s sensitivity and “out of respect for the family.” The Celebrity Equinox, which cruises the Caribbean year-round out of Fort Lauderdale, is flagged out of Malta and can carry almost 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew members.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, after Robert Jones died, his widow was given two choices by crew members.
They allegedly told Marilyn Jones, then 78 and from the Florida Panhandle, that his body could be taken off at the next stop, Puerto Rico, or stored in the morgue until the ship got back to Fort Lauderdale in six days. Because passenger deaths sometimes happen, most large cruise ships have a morgue.
The crew told her that if she chose Puerto Rico, she would need to go with the body and then arrange transportation for it and herself back to Florida, the suit says. She was also told that island authorities would perhaps require an autopsy, which could further delay their return.
Because Jones was alone, she picked the morgue. But that’s not where the body was stored, the lawsuit says.
When the ship arrived in Florida, a funeral home employee and a Broward County sheriff’s deputy found the morgue apparently out of service. They found the body in a walk-in drink cooler in a bag on a pallet, according to the suit.
It says the cooler was significantly warmer than the near-freezing temperatures needed to properly store a body, and Robert Jones’ remains were in “advanced stages of decomposition.”
Celebrity’s actions caused the family “extreme trauma by visualizing Mr. Jones’s body horrifically decomposed, and knowing their husband and father was callously and casually left in a beverage cooler, stripping him of his dignity,” the suit reads.
It seems that there were a couple problems at play here and that Celebrity (I’m currently on one of their ships – ugh) didn’t properly communicate to the wife that the morgue was in fact out of order and that there is no proper stowage facility for the body.
Giving her a choice and semi-pressuring her that she’d have to get off and clear more formalities in Puerto Rico was likely not a very wise decision either, especially in light of not having a functioning morgue on board. The lady was likely in shock, after all she just lost her husband. It’s impossible to make rational decisions in a short period of time and in such a situation a decision should be made for her, either by family or, in this case, the Captain.
Six days is a lot of time for a body to sit in improper storage that isn’t cold enough to preserve the corpse. It was reckless and negligent of the crew to have allowed this to go forward.
If I was to place odds on this, the million-dollar lawsuit will likely be settled out of court, probably for half that amount. The case has merit, and while you can certainly try to fight every case, the images of a decomposed corpse together with the story of the widow and the reckless actions of Celebrity would make this case a hard one to win.
A Celebrity Cruises passenger of the Equinox sadly passed away while sailing in the Caribbean. The death occurred in the early portion of the cruise, and there were still six days to go until the ship would eventually return to Fort Lauderdale in Florida.
The ship’s crew informed the widow that there are two options, either to store the body in the ship’s morgue or to get off in San Juan, Puerto Rico which would require additional formalities. They didn’t tell her however that the morgue was out of service and that the body would end up in an inadequate walk-in cooler, disfiguring the body through the process of decomposing and thereby rendering it ineligible for an open coffin funeral.
The lawsuit filed asks for one million dollar and I’d place a good guess on it that Celebrity will settle this case rather sooner than later.