Cruise ship staff allowed Florida man's body to badly decompose after heart attack, lawsuit says

Eva Marie Uzcategui

A Florida woman alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that her husband died aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean and the luxury liner’s staff failed to properly preserve the body, robbing his loved ones of an open-casket funeral.

Marilyn Jones, 78, set sail Aug. 13 aboard the Celebrity Equinox in Fort Lauderdale with her husband of 55 years, Robert Jones, 79, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida. The ocean liner was scheduled for an eight-day excursion to ports in the East Caribbean, including San Juan, Puerto Rico, the suit said.

Marilyn Jones was listed as a plaintiff, as were her two daughters, an adult granddaughter and two minor grandchildren. The defendant in the lawsuit is Celebrity Cruises Inc., which owns and operates the Celebrity Equinox.

A representative with Celebrity Cruises said Friday in an email: “Due to the sensitivity of the alleged facts and out of respect for the family, we decline to comment on the matter.”

After two days on the cruise, the vacation turned somber when Robert Jones died from a heart attack, the suit said.

Following her husband’s death, the lawsuit said, Marilyn Jones was told she had the option of preserving her husband’s body in the cruise ship’s morgue for the next six days until the boat docked in Fort Lauderdale. The suit also alleges that Jones was dissuaded from taking her husband’s body off the cruise ship in San Juan when she was cautioned the coroner’s office there could take possession of the body and perform an autopsy before releasing it to a funeral home.

The ship’s staff also cautioned her that if she stayed in Puerto Rico, she would be responsible for securing travel back home for her and her late husband, the suit said.

The staff’s warnings about leaving the ship with her husband’s body in Puerto Rico didn’t leave her much choice, the suit alleges.

She was told there would be a “50/50 chance that a medical examiner in San Juan would ‘take possession’ of her husband’s body and perform an autopsy. This was especially distressing to Ms. Jones, who is elderly and was traveling alone with her husband,” the suit said.

When the Equinox docked in Florida after nearly a week since her husband’s passing, a worker with a funeral home and a deputy with a local sheriff’s office arrived to handle the body, the suit said.

But Robert Jones’ body was not in the ship’s morgue, instead, it was moved to a cooler on a different floor. The cooler, the suit said, was not cold enough to preserve the body which was in a state of severe decomposition, the suit said.

In the cooler, Jones’ body was not on a bed or medical table, instead it “was laying in a bag on a palette on the floor,” the suit said.

The unsuitable conditions in the cooler caused physical indignities to Jones’ body, the suit said.

“By allowing Mr. Jones’ body to decompose while on the ship to such a state that his family was unable to have open casket funeral and wake services, denying his wife of 55 years, children, grandchildren, friends, and community the closure their family and community deserved, a practice which was a part of his family’s culture,” the suit said.

The ship should have been equipped to handle a death, the suit said, citing heart attacks and cardiac incidents as the “leading cause of death among passengers on its ships, having had at least 37 deaths on board its’ own cruise ships since 2001,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges the cruise should have kept a working morgue, inspected it to make sure it was working or checked Jones’ body with reasonable frequency to make sure it was properly preserved.

The Jones' family seeks a jury trial and damages of at least $1 million, the suit said.

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