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Royal Caribbean Moves to Block Volcano Eruption Suits

On NZ disaster, cruise line says it can only be sued in Australia, not US where it's headquartered
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2020 10:04 AM CST
Eruption Suits Target Royal Caribbean
In this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo, plumes of steam rise above White Island, New Zealand, after a volcanic eruption on Dec. 9.   (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

(Newser) – One of the world's largest cruise companies is taking legal action halfway around the world to prevent it from being sued in the US over the deadly volcanic eruption on New Zealand's White Island. Most of the 47 people on the island when it erupted on Dec. 9, 2019, were from Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas. In all, 22 people died, including the husband and 21-year-old daughter of Australian Marie Browitt. Browitt and her surviving daughter have filed a lawsuit in Miami, where Royal Caribbean is headquartered, accusing the cruise line of failing to keep passengers safe. So, too, have Ivy and Paul Reed, a Maryland couple who say they suffered "life-threatening burns," "permanent and disfiguring scarring," and "reduced use of their limbs and extremities," per the Guardian. But the cruise line claims those disputes can only be heard in New South Wales, Australia, under its ticket contract.

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Royal Caribbean has applied to Australia's federal court for a ruling that would block the US lawsuits, filed earlier this month, from proceeding any further, per Australia's ABC News. Both lawsuits claim Royal Caribbean knew or should have known that the excursion was dangerous. The island's volcanic activity level had been raised from 1 to 2 on a five-level scale. Browitt's suit claims a tour guide told her deceased daughter it was "nearing Level 3," meaning an eruption was imminent, per the Guardian. This was "nothing short of selling a ticket to play Russian roulette," the Browitts allege. Their lawyer, Peter Gordon, says the family "didn't get a contract that said anything about where suits should be litigated." He argues Royal Caribbean is already defending a similar case in Miami, brought by newlyweds Lauren Barham and Matthew Urey. (Urey suffered burns to 80% of his body.)

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