Three years ago, 6-year-old Qwentyn Hunter was on a cruise vacation aboard Carnival Victory with his parents and 2 older siblings heading back from Cozumel to Miami. Qwentyn and his brother asked their dad, Caselle Hunter, to take them up to the jacuzzi before dinner. Caselle happily agreed.
While up at the pool, however, Caselle Hunter bumped into a church friend and became distracted. Before he could fully process what was going on, Caselle Hunter heard another passenger splash into the water and pull out his son's limp body. Tragically, Qwentyn, an aspiring child model from Orlando, died onboard the ship.
Just a few days shy of the anniversary of their son's death, the Hunters filed a federal lawsuit against Carnival on Tuesday, October 11, saying the company acted negligently in failing to provide lifeguards and adequate medical care that may have saved Qwentyn's life.
The Hunters were featured in a New Times story last month about the failure of most major cruise lines to employ lifeguards — and the drownings that often follow. Attorneys who represent cruise ship passengers say the industry, which is protected by an archaic 1920 law called the Death on the High Seas Act, cares more about its bottom line than the safety of ticket-holders.
The Hunters' lawsuit, filed by maritime attorney Michael Winkleman, calls Carnival's conduct "outrageous" and says the decision to go without lifeguards was "calculated to save Carnival money while greatly increasing the risk to its passengers."
"Numerous children have died or been grievously injured recently onboard cruise ships due to drowning or near drowning prior to this incident, yet Carnival does not even spend a single penny on utilizing lifeguards onboard its ships to prevent these tragedies," the suit says.
Indeed, incidents of kids drowning in cruise ship pools are happening at an increasing frequency. Just this past weekend, a two-year-old child had to be hospitalized after nearly drowning on another Carnival cruise ship, the Splendor.
Carnival, which hasn't responded to the Hunters' complaint in court, told New Times it had not reviewed the lawsuit and couldn't comment. Spokesman Roger Frizzell argued last month, though, that the buck stops with children's caregivers.
"Our perspective is that close parental supervision is the best practice to ensure pool safety. This is a similar policy to most hotels and resorts," he wrote.
Caselle Hunter has said he ultimately accepts responsibility for what happened to his son, but hopes to be able to prevent the needless death of other children on cruise ships. His wife, Tashara, told New Times the only intention in filing a lawsuit would be to encourage cruise lines to employ water safety measures, like lifeguards.
"We were never looking for monetary gain, because no amount of money can bring our son back," she said. "But the fact of putting lifeguards on there, on their ships to prevent someone else going through what we experienced, was the only request we had."
Winkleman, who has filed three suits this year on behalf of parents whose children drowned on cruises, says the failure by cruise lines to take action is unforgivable.
"I hope this lawsuit shines a much-needed light on the fact that cruise lines continue to refuse to put lifeguards on ships despite nearly a dozen children dying since Qwentyn died," he says.
After Qwentyn's death, his parents started the Qwentyn Hunter Luv Foundation, which provides support to grieving families and helps coordinate swimming lessons for children. They have vowed to avoid cruising until lifeguards are placed on ships.
For reports on other Carnival Victory ship accidents see at CruiseMinus.com