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Deceased man was left to rot on a cruise because staff stored dead body in drink cooler, widow's lawsuit says

Krafft Angerer/Getty Images

A Florida woman is accusing staff with Celebrity Cruises of mishandling her husband's dead body, which allegedly caused it to severely decompose, according to a new lawsuit.

Two days after the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship departed Fort Lauderdale for an eight-day voyage to ports in the Caribbean, a 79-year-old passenger died. Robert Jones died of a heart attack while on the cruise ship on Aug. 15, 2022.

The lawsuit claims that cruise staff stored the dead body of Jones inside a walk-in drink cooler. The lawsuit alleges that cruise personnel informed Jones' wife that her husband of 55 years would be maintained in the ship's morgue for the next six days until the ship docked in Fort Lauderdale.

The wife, Marilyn Jones, says that cruise staff dissuaded her from taking her husband's body off the ship when it docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The suit claims cruise staff warned the widow that there was a "50/50 chance" the coroner's office would take possession of the body to perform an autopsy before releasing it to a funeral home, according to NBC News. They also allegedly told her that she would need to find transportation back to the United States if she stepped off the ship.

"This was especially distressing to Ms. Jones, who is elderly and was traveling alone with her husband," the lawsuit claims.

The federal lawsuit says Jones' body was not in the ship's morgue, but was instead "laying in a bag on a pallet on the floor."

The lawsuit alleges that the drink cooler was not cold enough to preserve the dead body and caused physical indignities to Jones' body.

The suit claims that Jones' body was in "advanced stages of decomposition" because of the conditions in the beverage cooler.

The Associated Press reported, "That left the body bloated and green, and the family was unable to have an open-coffin funeral 'which was a long-standing family custom and was what his family had desired,' the lawsuit says."

"By allowing Mr. Jones’ body to decompose while on the ship to such a state that his family was unable to have open casket funeral and wake services, denying his wife of 55 years, children, grandchildren, friends, and community the closure their family and community deserved, a practice which was a part of his family’s culture," the lawsuit states.

The Celebrity Equinox docked in Fort Lauderdale nearly a week after Jones died from a heart attack. The body was reportedly recovered by a funeral home worker and a Broward County sheriff's deputy.

The lawsuit alleges that the family suffered "extreme trauma by visualizing Mr. Jones’ body horrifically decomposed, and knowing their husband and father was callously and casually left in a beverage cooler, stripping him of his dignity."

Marilyn Jones, her two daughters, and three grandchildren are seeking $1 million in damages.

Celebrity Cruises said, "Due to the sensitivity of the alleged facts and out of respect for the family, we decline to comment on the matter."

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