The cruise line Royal Caribbean has launched legal action in Australia in a bid to stop victims of New Zealand’s White Island eruption from suing it in Miami, where it has its headquarters.
In litigation in Miami, American couple Ivy and Paul Reed, who were severely burned when the White island volcano erupted a year ago, and Australians Marie and Stephanie Browitt, who lost family in the disaster, have accused Royal Caribbean of failing in its duty to keep passengers safe by allowing a day trip to White Island to go ahead despite warnings the volcano might erupt.
But last week the cruise company applied to the federal court in Australia for a ruling prohibiting the families from going any further with their US lawsuits.
Royal Caribbean, which is the biggest cruise company in the world, claims a clause in the ticket contract governing the voyage means courts in the Australian state of New South Wales are the only venue that can hear disputes over the disaster.
The eruption, on 9 December 2019, killed 22 people who had been cruising on Royal Caribbean’s ship Ovation of the Seas, including Marie Browitt’s husband, Paul, and daughter, Krystal. A further 25 people were injured.
The Reeds and the Browitts have filed separate lawsuits in the US against Royal Caribbean, seeking damages for the disaster.
In their case filed in the US federal court system, Ivy and Paul Reed, who live in Maryland, claim that the eruption caused “severe, life-threatening burns over large portions of their bodies, permanent and disfiguring scarring, reduced use of their limbs and extremities”, as well as inflicting ongoing mental trauma and making it difficult for them to work.
The Browitts claim in their lawsuit, which they filed in the Florida state court system, that “Stephanie Browitt was severely injured, suffering injuries that will last throughout her life, and both Marie and Stephanie Browitt suffered severe emotional distress, mental anguish, physical pain, loss of enjoyment of life, post-traumatic stress and other mental and/or nervous disorders.”
The lawsuit also includes claims on behalf of the estates of Paul and Krystal Browitt, made under Florida’s wrongful death laws.