MIAMI (CN) – A widow claims in court that Carnival Cruise Lines left her drunk husband to die after he fell overboard, then falsely claimed he had committed suicide.
Michele Markham claims it took Carnival Cruise Lines more than 20 minutes to send out a rescue boat after her admittedly drunk husband fell overboard.
In her federal complaint, she claims the company never recovered his body, then told media, falsely, that her husband Clint had committed suicide.
Michelle says her husband, the sole provider of their family, took advantage of the unlimited alcohol available on their excursion, then went into the party mode that Carnival fosters.
She claims that when she tried to calm him down, Clint went to the upper deck and sat on the railing.
Some witnesses say Clint fell, others that he jumped, but everyone agrees Clint appeared to unconscious before he hit the water, the complaint states.
Michelle says passengers immediately tried to contact the ship’s deck, but a rescue boat was not lowered for more than 20 minutes, and Clint’s body was never recovered.
It all started in September 2011, when the Markhams decided to take a Carnival cruise to celebrate Clint’s 40th birthday, his widow says.
She claims the Carnival cruise invited “daredevils at heart” and offered unlimited alcoholic drinks.
After drinking all day on Cozumel island, and eating food of little substance, the couple returned to the ship by 6 p.m., according to the complaint.
“Clint Markham consumed so much alcohol in such a short period of time on September 23, 2011 that his judgment and physical coordination were substantially impaired,” the complaint states.
“Defendant negligently served alcoholic beverages to plaintiff’s decedent Clint Markham to excess so that his judgment and faculties were substantially impaired. “Defendant has a corporate policy of not keeping track of the amount of alcohol it freely serves its passengers, so as not to provide notice of overdrinking to passengers who might become injured in part or in whole due to intoxication, and attempt to sue the cruise line. This policy is present in other areas of ship operation.
“When the plaintiff Michelle Markham and her husband returned to the Carnival Conquest after a day of drinking alcoholic beverages and partying, Clint Markham was inebriated to the point of being unable to care for his own safety or to think clearly and rationally. He wanted to continue drinking and partying, however his wife, plaintiff Michelle Markham, tried to exert a calming influence on him and told him he had had too much to drink and that he should stay in the cabin and rest, take a shower, and get ready for dinner. The Conquest departed Cozumel shortly after the plaintiff and her husband returned to the Carnival Conquest. The ship sailed from Cozumel at approximately 6:00 p.m. under sunny skies and calm seas.
“Even though he had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, Clint Markham had been conditioned by defendant to want to keep partying, and to take it to the limit and beyond. Clint Markham was a daredevil type with honed reflexes who sometimes enjoyed activities that most people would consider too risky, such as bungee-jumping or stock car racing. Clint Markham was also an individual who liked to ‘clown around.’ Thus a perfect storm was created for the tragedy that ensued.
“Defendant Carnival Corporation goes to great lengths to inebriate its passengers and, in so doing, to break down their inhibitions, and create an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere. Synonyms for the name of the defendant’s corporation, Carnival, include ‘bacchanal,’ ‘orgy,’ ‘debauch’ and ‘merrymaking.’ The word ‘carnival’ has come to mean in the general lexicon a ‘self-indulgent festival.’ Defendant’s business plan to cultivate this atmosphere among its passengers is no coincidence.
“Although he had done a lot of heavy drinking, Clint Markham felt he could still party on. He did not want to ‘lie down,’ take a shower and get ready for dinner. Plaintiff’s decedent was angry with his wife Michelle Markham and was resentful that she tried to rein him in. He was being the wild, untamed warrior/hunter male while plaintiff Michelle was being the archetypal female and mother just trying to protect the hearth and home.
“Because defendant Carnival had conditioned Clint Markham to party hard, he wanted to continue drinking and partying. Clint Markham bickered with his wife about doing more partying and then left the cabin alone. Intoxicated and belligerent, at approximately 6:00 p.m., he proceeded to an upper deck of the ship. He encountered some friends on the upper deck, had some animated conversation with his friends and then with some unknown passengers, and then climbed up on the railing of the ship. He sat on the railing for a few moments and then fell face forward down into the sea. He appeared motionless after he hit the water. This was at approximately 6:25 p.m.
“Despite having prior notice that passengers from time to time go over the side, defendant Carnival negligently and/or intentionally failed to take even the most minimal precautions to prepare for this eventuality and to be able to either a) prevent it from occurring and/or b) rescue a passenger who falls into the sea.
“Defendant did not train its deck personnel including wait staff, security officers, bartenders, pool attendants and supervisors to monitor the rail. Defendant failed to have a closed circuit television camera trained on the rail and failed to have a system in place where it could see someone climb up on the rail and then intervene in a timely fashion. Defendant failed to have a reasonably safe rescue plan in place and then negligently failed to properly execute the plan it did have in place.
“Were Clint Markham not overly-inebriated, he would not have fallen face down, would not have appeared lifeless in the water and would not have hit anything on the way down. If Clint Markham did intend to jump off the railing as a daredevil, clowning stunt, to make some kind of statement to his wife that he was still the king of the party, he would have survived the jump, had he not passed out first. It is apparent from the witness statements and the evidence that Clint Markham, blacked out and passed out and fell into the sea, unable to care for his own safety.
“During the time that Clint Markham was on the main open passenger deck for at least ten to twenty minutes before going overboard. During that time, when he had climbed up onto the railing, and then sat on the railing and through the time he fell into the sea, there was no intervention by any security personnel nor were any security personnel visible on the deck, although other employees of defendant were on the deck in the immediate vicinity of Clint Markham.
“Clint Markham was neither depressed nor suicidal. He had no history of depression or of suicide attempts or ideations. He was looking forward to attending his son’s statewide band competition. He was a devoted son, husband and father who took his family responsibilities of financially supporting his wife, children and mother seriously. He had many friends and was a well-respected member of the community in which he lived. He had just started a new job paying six figures and he and his wife were in the process of refinancing their new home.
“At the time that Clint Markham fell into the sea, there was no immediate response from the ship. No alarm was sounded immediately. No crew members immediately responded. Several passengers called 911 on the ship telephone but could not get through to the bridge. One passenger threw several life preserver rings into the sea. The ship did not slow for some time. There are reports that no rescue boat was lowered for more than twenty minutes after Clint fell into the sea.
“Despite this incident occurring in daylight while the ship was directly off the port of Cozumel, Mexico in relatively calm seas, Clint Markham was not rescued and his body was never recovered.
“Before the ship had returned to its home port of Galveston, Texas, a representative of defendant Carnival Corporation had contacted plaintiff Joyce Markham and specifically told Joyce Markham that her (only) son Clint Markham had committed suicide. Joyce Markham strongly disputed the assertion by defendant.
“Defendant Carnival Corporation then caused the same misinformation to be disseminated to the local media. Camera people and news reporters converged on the home of Joyce Markham and pointedly questioned her as to why her son had committed suicide. When she angrily denied this and demanded to know why they were asking her why her only son had committed suicide, the news media told her that a representative from Defendant Carnival Corporation had told them that Clint Markham had committed suicide on the Carnival Conquest by jumping overboard.
27. News media converged on the ship as it docked waiting for Michelle Markham to disembark. They also converged on the home of Michelle Markham, making it impossible for her to return home for a few days.
“She had to stay with relatives until things calmed down and she could return home. When she went on the Internet, she became aware of lawyers who had already posted the story on their websites, causing her further distress days later,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
Michelle adds: “The reason why defendant believed it was necessary to disseminate this false information will be revealed in discovery in this case. The only evidence about Clint Markham’s untimely demise that defendant had at the time this false story was disseminated was from conflicting passenger witness statements. Some people said that plaintiff’s decedent had fallen into the sea face down, and may have hit some part of the Conquest on the way down to the sea and did not appear to be conscious when he was in the water. Others said he had ‘jumped.’ However, there was and is, no way to construe any of the witness statements to conclude that Clint Markham ‘committed suicide.’
“There was no suicide note, for example, and no witnesses stated that Clint Markham had said he intended to take his own life.”
The widow seeks punitive damages for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She sued on her own behalf and for her daughter Chanel, and mother, Joyce.
They are represented by Paul Hoffman of Fort Lauderdale.
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