Burn Injuries from Volcano Eruption Lead to Lawsuit

burn injuries

Royal Caribbean and an excursion company are being sued by a Virginia couple who suffered extensive burn injuries during a volcano eruption in New Zealand.  According to the lawsuit, the couple was visiting White Island in New Zealand in 2019 as part of their honeymoon.

The couple was with 45 other people who disembarked Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas to visit the island in December 2019.  As dozens of people toured the island, the volcano suddenly exploded.  Plumes of black smoke filled the air as tourists scrambled to leave the island.

People in boats who had recently left the island attempted to help survivors.  They report an “indescribable” experience.  Some survivors reported that their boats rescued some survivors and tended to them until they could get medical attention.

Volcano Eruption Causes Burn Injuries and Deaths

In the hours and days following the eruption, officials could only guess at how many people were injured or killed.  The environment around the island was unsafe for rescue teams, so they were forced to wait at least a day to assess the situation.

As the smoke cleared and rescue teams were able to search the area, the tragedy became clear.  Thirty-one people were injured and taken to local hospitals following the eruption.  In total, 21 people died.  Those who survived suffered varying degrees of injury – many burns.  The victims on the island included citizens from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.

The couple now suing Royal Caribbean are among those who survived with life-changing injuries.  The lawsuit says that the couple, Matthew Urey and Laruen Barham, suffered severe burns to 54 and 23 percent of their bodies respectively.

Lawsuit Claims Negligence Led to Burn Injuries

According to the lawsuit, Royal Caribbean and the excursion company, ID Tours New Zealand Limited, were negligent in not informing tourists about the potential dangers of visiting White Island.  The lawsuit says that Royal Caribbean’s excursion brochure describes White Island as

“one of the most active volcanoes in the world.”

But the term “active” does not necessarily denote immediate danger.  The lawsuit notes that the term “active” is used to define a volcano that has erupted at least once in 10,000 years.  The couple was not aware that the White Island volcano had erupted “multiple times” in the last 10 years and was currently experiencing an increase in volcanic activity.

Also, the lawsuit says that the couple was not notified that a 5.9 magnitude earthquake occurred just two weeks before the eruption.  The epicenter of the earthquake was just 6.2 miles northeast of the volcano.  That is notable since

“Seismic activity provides an increased risk of hydrothermal eruptions.”

According to the couple’s attorney, Royal Caribbean had a “well-defined legal duty” to inform passengers of the known dangers.  The lawsuit alleges that Royal Caribbean “egregiously breached this duty to warn.”

Royal Caribbean and ID Tours New Zealand Limited have both declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Cruise Line Duties to Inform and Protect Passengers

Cruise lines have a duty to inform passengers about possible dangers and ensure safe transportation. They are also required to use care to protect passengers who disembark at ports or other locations. If the cruise line fails to use reasonable care in protecting passengers from danger, then they can be held liable for injuries that passengers sustain.  Like other areas of personal injury law, the passenger must establish that:

  • The cruise line owed him or her a duty of care
  • There was a breach in said duty
  • The breach in the duty of care is the cause of the injuries
  • The passenger suffered damages as a result

If the passenger can establish these elements, then the cruise line may be held liable.  Passengers on cruise ships who suffer injuries can sue the cruise line to recover damages they suffered due to the injury.  Passengers can sue to recover:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement

Get Help with a Cruise Ship Injury Claim

Maritime law is a complicated and very specialized field.  If you are injured while onboard a cruise ship, there are several things that you must consider.  First, you must consider the fine-print on your ticket.  Often times, tickets include information about lawsuits, where legal claims will be managed, and any restrictions on suing.

Another important consideration is whether you have met any requirements for notifying the cruise line of your injury.  Also, are you filing a lawsuit within the statute of limitations? These factors can impact your ability to sue.

Because maritime law is so unique, you should talk to a maritime lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your injury.  If your injury is the result of negligence, then a maritime lawyer can help you take the next steps toward getting compensation for your injuries.

Get help with your cruise ship injury claim by contacting Maritime Injury Guide.  Our legal team helps victims of burn injuries, offshore injuries, hypothermia, slip and fall injuries, and more.  What’s more, we help maritime workers or passengers on cruise ships, commercial fishing and crab boats, oil rigs, tankers and dredgers.

To find out how we can help you, contact Maritime Injury Guide by calling 1-866-871-8422.  You can also contact us online via our free injury consultation contact form.