Three years ago, 6-year-old Qwentyn Hunter was on a cruise vacation on 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 on 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."
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.
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.
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.
After the kid's death, his parents started Qwentyn Hunter Luv Foundation, which provides support to grieving families and helps coordinate swimming lessons for kids. They have vowed to avoid cruising until lifeguards are placed on ships.