Royal Caribbean Cruises is attempting to stop some victims of the White Island volcano disaster from suing in the United States by filing a proceeding against them in the Australian Federal Court.
Australians Marie and Stephanie Browitt, who lost family members in the eruption, and American couple Paul and Ivy Reed, who suffered severe injuries, launched separate legal proceedings in the US state of Florida, where the company is based, to seek damages.
Last week, Royal Caribbean Cruises applied to the Australian Federal Court to seek a ruling to prohibit the Reed and Browitt families from moving forward with their lawsuits.
Peter Gordon, lawyer for the Browitt family, told the ABC there were “plenty of indications in the weeks, months and years leading up to December 9, 2019 that this was literally a volcano ready to erupt”.
“There were a number of geological and scientific organisations that were ringing alarm bells about volcanic activity on the island,” he said.
“Royal Caribbean have a duty of care to make sure they’re not sending their passengers into places where there is an unreasonable risk of serious injury.”
Marie Browitt’s daughter, Krystal Eve Browitt, 21, was the first victim of the volcanic eruption who was formally named by New Zealand Police.
She was on the island with her father Paul, who later died of his injuries, and sister Stephanie, who was seriously injured.
Most of the 47 people on White Island when it erupted last December were on a day trip from Ovation of the Seas, a cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean.
The eruption killed 22 people and inflicted severe injuries to the survivors.
“The wrongdoing is that Royal Caribbean had an insight into the warnings and an obligation to keep its passengers out of harm’s way,” Mr Gordon said.
“If they knew there was an Ebola outbreak going on in a particular place, they would cancel the shore excursion, because that’s what reasonable care demands of a company,” he said.
In their case filed in the US, Mr and Mrs Reed claim the eruption caused “permanent and disfiguring scarring” and “reduced use of their limbs and extremities”, according to a report in the Guardian.
Royal Caribbean has not filed a defence to either cases by the Browitt and Reed families in the US, claiming in their filing to the Australian Federal Court that proceedings can only be heard in New South Wales courts due to a clause in their cruise ticket contract.
“The allegation that Royal Caribbean provided the Browitts with a contract that said all pursuits have to be litigated in New South Wales is simply not true,” lawyer for the Browitt family said.
“They never received such a contract.”
Royal Caribbean declined to respond to questions from the ABC, saying in a statement: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy, however we do not comment on pending litigation”.