The largest cruise company in the world, Royal Caribbean, has launched a legal bid in Australia to prevent victims of the White Island eruption from suing them in US courts.
A litigation has been launched in Miami, where Royal Caribbean has its headquarters, by American couple Ivy and Paul Reed who were badly burned in the December 9, 2019, eruption and Australians Marie and Stephanie Browitt who had family members die.
The Guardian has reported the Reeds and Browitts have accused Royal Caribbean of failing its safety obligations in allowing the cruise passengers on a day trip to White Island despite warnings the volcano may erupt.
However, last week Royal Caribbean made an application to the Australian federal court to obtain a ruling that would prevent the White Island victims from proceeding with their US lawsuits.
In it, Royal Caribbean claim a clause in the ticket contract for the voyage to White Island means only courts in New South Wales can hear disputes over the December 9, 2019, disaster.
On November 30, WorkSafe New Zealand chief executive Phil Parkes confirmed charges have been laid against 13 parties in relation to the eruption.
Marie Browitt’s husband, Paul, and daughter, Krystal, were among the 22 people killed on White Island.
The Browitts filed their claim in the Florida state court system stating:
“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 Browitts also claim that White Island was nearing a level 3 volcanic activity threat in the weeks before the December 9 eruption. The volcano had been upgraded to level 2 in the weeks earlier, which is the highest before an eruption.
“The sale of any tickets to the island was outrageous conduct, and nothing short of selling a ticket to play Russian roulette,” the Browitts allege.
“This conduct was indecently cavalier, outside the bounds of decency and so reckless that it should not be tolerated in civilised society.”
A separate lawsuit from the Reeds has been launched in the US federal court.
In their case the Maryland couple say the eruption caused ongoing mental trauma affecting their ability to work and “severe, life-threatening burns over large portions of their bodies, permanent and disfiguring scarring, reduced use of their limbs and extremities”.
In the Browitts’ and the Reeds’ lawsuits, both lodged earlier this month, they alleged Royal Caribbean should have been aware of the danger of an eruption and avoided the trip to White Island.
But Royal Caribbean has filed a lawsuit to the Australian federal court in response asking the court to make an order that would prevent the families from progressing with their US cases.
Royal Caribbean claims any legal action is confined to New South Wales courts based off the ticket terms and conditions.
The Australian lawyer for the Browitts, Peter Gordon of Gordon Legal, told Guardian Australia the family “didn’t get a contract that said anything about where suits should be litigated”.
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said they do not comment on pending inquiries but “our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy”.
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