A Florida widow and her family are suing a cruise line for allegedly mishandling her husband’s dead body and storing it in a drinks cooler after he died on board a ship.
Robert Jones’ body was stored inside a walk-in cooler normally used for drinks for nearly a week instead of a properly chilled morgue as his wife was promised, according to the federal lawsuit filed in Florida.
Mr Jones died of a heart attack while onboard the Celebrity Equinox on 15 August last year.
The lawsuit claims his body was found in “advanced stages of decomposition” in a cooler in a bag on a palette.
It says it left the body bloated and green, and the family was unable to have an open-coffin funeral “which was a long-standing family custom”.
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 in Florida, is flagged out of Malta and can carry almost 3,000 passengers.
According to the lawsuit, after Mr Jones died his widow Marilyn was given two choices by crew members.
They allegedly told her that his body could be taken off at the next stop, Puerto Rico, or stored in the morgue until the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale in six days.
In the event of passenger deaths, most large cruise ships have a morgue.
The crew told Ms Jones that if she chose Puerto Rico, she would need to leave with her husband’s body and arrange transportation back to Florida, the suit said.
She was also told that inland authorities may require a post-mortem, which could further delay their return.
Ms Jones picked the morgue, but the lawsuit says that is not where the body was stored.
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 then found Mr Jones’ body in a walk-in drinks 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 that the remains were in “advanced stages of decomposition”.
The lawsuit claims Celebrity’s actions “stripped” Mr Jones of his dignity and caused his family “extreme trauma”.
Ms Jones, her two daughters and three grandchildren are seeking $1m in damages.