A Florida widow and her family are suing a cruise line alleging it mishandled her husband’s body and stored it in a drink cooler after he died on board.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in Florida, Robert Jones’ body was stored for nearly a week in a walk-in cooler normally used for beverages, rather than in a properly refrigerated morgue as his wife had promised.
Mr Jones died of a heart attack on the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship on August 15 last year.
His body was found in a cooler in a bag on a pallet in a state of “advanced decomposition,” the lawsuit said.
It said it left the body swollen and green and that the family could not open the coffin for the funeral, “a long-standing family custom”.
Celebrity Cruises declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the case and “out of respect for the family”.
The Maltese-flagged Celebrity Equinox sails the Caribbean year-round from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and can carry nearly 3,000 passengers.
After Mr. Jones died, the crew gave his widow, Marilyn, two options, according to the lawsuit.
They allegedly told her his body could be taken at the next stop, Puerto Rico, or stored at a mortuary until the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale within six days.
In the event of a passenger’s death, most large cruise ships have a mortuary.
The flight 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 lawsuit said.
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She was also told that post-mortem examinations may be required by inland authorities, which could further delay their return.
Ms. Jones chose the morgue, but the suit says that’s not where the bodies are stored.
When the ship arrived in Florida, a funeral home employee and a Broward County sheriff’s deputy found the mortuary apparently unavailable.
They then found Mr Jones’ body in a walk-in beverage cooler in a bag on a pallet, according to the lawsuit.
It said the coolers were much hotter than the near-freezing temperatures needed to properly store the body and that the remains were in an “advanced stage of decomposition”.
The lawsuit says the celebrity’s actions “deprived” Mr Jones of his dignity and caused “extreme trauma” to his family.
Ms. Jones, her two daughters and three grandchildren are seeking $1 million in damages.