According to the proposed class action, rather than allowing would-be vacationers to reschedule their cruise in light of the category 4 hurricane, Royal Caribbean offered the choice of either taking the cruise or forfeiting all the money customers paid for their trip on the Miami-based cruise line's Liberty of the Seas. The cruise was scheduled to depart on August 27th from Galveston, Texas.
According to the court filings, toddlers waded through flood waters as their stranded families searched for food after they were "strong-armed" into coming to Galveston when the cruise line "repeatedly" told passengers they would lose the entire cost of the trip if they cancelled.
The day before Harvey made landfall, Royal Caribbean issued an online notice that the Sunday cruise was still set to leave port as scheduled. The following day, as the storm made landfall in Texas, airlines started cancelling flights and officials closed the Port of Galveston, according to the complaint.
The port closure trapped Liberty of the Seas and three Carnival Cruise ships at sea, stranding more than 20,000 passengers set to disembark in Galveston. Regardless, Royal Caribbean told incoming travelers to expect an on-time departure that Sunday, plaintiffs claim.
The lawsuit notes that while Carnival rerouted its ships to other ports, Royal Caribbean "sailed straight ahead." On the afternoon of Saturday, August 26, the cruise line's chief meteorologist tweeted: "Weather looking favorable tonight and tomorrow," according to court documents.
Just a few hours later, cruise passengers were again told that their cruise was going ahead, the ship would sail as planned. "By this time, catastrophic flooding had already begun," the complaint states. "Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and highways were flooded, impassable and deadly. Yet RCCL was still attempting to find a way to make the scheduled sailing."
However, late Saturday night, Royal Caribbean delayed the Sunday departure to Monday, as the closure of the port prevented it from docking and boarding the customers.
"At or around this time, was the last chance that these passengers likely could have escaped being trapped in Hurricane Harvey's flood waters but RCCL did its best to convince these passengers to stay. Only on Sunday, August 27, the worst day of flooding in Galveston County, did the cruise line email the passengers offering them the ability to cancel for a full refund and future discount. A few hours later, they called off the cruise altogether. However, by this time, dozens of passengers were in the Galveston area.
"Had the cruise been cancelled a day or two earlier, just like Carnival did, then these passengers would not have been trapped in the path of Hurricane Harvey and subjected to 5-6 days of terror, hardship and inconvenience in a place foreign to them," the lawsuit alleges.
The proposed class action lawsuit claims that Royal Caribbean was negligent in its refusal to cancel the sailing sooner and for failing to appropriately monitor the weather. The plaintiffs have suffered emotional distress with symptoms ranging from nausea to nightmares, as a result of the defendants actions, the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs are represented by Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., in Miami, FL.