FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A widow and her family are suing Celebrity Cruises for allegedly mishandling her husband's body after he died while they were on a ship last year, saying it was left to decompose and they suffered extreme emotional trauma.
After Marilyn Jones' husband of 55 years, Robert Jones, died of a heart attack Aug. 15 onboard the Celebrity Equinox, his body was stored for nearly a week inside a walk-in cooler normally used for beverages instead of a properly chilled morgue as she was promised, according to the federal lawsuit filed in Florida.
That left the body bloated and green, and the family was unable to have an open-coffin funeral “which was a long standing family custom and was what his family had desired," the lawsuit says. Marilyn Jones, her two daughters and three grandchildren are seeking $1 million in damages.
Celebrity Cruises declined to comment, citing the case's sensitivity and “out of respect for the family.” The Celebrity Equinox, which cruises the Caribbean year-round out of Fort Lauderdale, is flagged out of Malta and can carry almost 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew members.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, after Robert Jones died, his widow was given two choices by crew members.
They allegedly told Marilyn Jones, then 78 and from the Florida Panhandle, that his body could be taken off at the next stop, Puerto Rico, or stored in the morgue until the ship got back to Fort Lauderdale in six days. Because passenger deaths sometimes happen, most large cruise ships have a morgue.
The crew told her that if she chose Puerto Rico, she would need to go with the body and then arrange transportation for it and herself back to Florida, the suit says. She was also told that island authorities would perhaps require an autopsy, which could further delay their return.
Because Jones was alone, she picked the morgue. But that’s not where the body was stored, the lawsuit says.
When the ship arrived in Florida, a funeral home employee and a Broward County sheriff's deputy found the morgue apparently out of service. They found the body in a walk-in drink cooler in a bag on a palette, according to the suit.
It says the cooler was significantly warmer than the near-freezing temperatures needed to properly store a body, and Robert Jones' remains were in “advanced stages of decomposition.”
Celebrity's actions caused the family “extreme trauma by visualizing Mr. Jones's body horrifically decomposed, and knowing their husband and father was callously and casually left in a beverage cooler, stripping him of his dignity,” the suit reads.
Jones' attorneys are seeking a jury trial.