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Carnival Cruise Ship's Bacteria-Filled Hot Tub Sickened Passenger, Lawsuit Claims

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Last November, Maryland resident Charles Atwell boarded Pride, a 1,000-foot, 12-deck Carnival cruise ship that sails from Baltimore and Tampa to the Caribbean and carries more than 2,000 passengers. The ship features a nightclub, piano bar, and water slide, and Atwell was also likely attracted by the great reputation of its outgoing, friendly crew.

"There must be something in the water on this ship," one customer wrote in a review on the website Cruise Critic.

According to a recent lawsuit filed by Atwell, there was, in fact, something in the water: a colony of incredibly dangerous bacteria floating in at least one of the ship's five hot tubs, just waiting to ruin the lives of unsuspecting vacationers like Atwell.

After using a hot tub, the suit claims, Atwell developed a serious infection. "Plaintiff had to be hospitalized," the suit says, "for an enormous and extremely... painful perirectal and perianal abscess, which had to be surgically treated and drained."

The complaint, which was filed October 24, demands $75,000 and a jury trial. Sean Cleary, the attorney representing Atwell, declined to comment for this story, although the suit alleges a pattern of bacteria infection in Carnival hot tubs and negligence on the part of the Doral-based cruise company -- in December 2012, Cleary sued the company on behalf of three passengers after they also allegedly got infections from using a hot tub on another ship. (The suit was ultimately settled earlier this month.)

Citing depositions from Carnival employees related to the previous suit, the new lawsuit claims that Carnival "does not check its hot tub piping for biofilm" -- a microorganism slime that can develop in hot, humid climates -- and that in the past, Carnival hot tubs had frequently tested positive for Legionella bacteria.

"There have been numerous other reports to Carnival of other bacterial infections caused by Carnival's hot tubs," the suit says, "which have been reported on board... to, among others, Carnival's own medical staff."

In a statement provided to New Times, the cruise ship company defended its hot tubs.

"Carnival's shipboard whirlpools are properly sanitized, operated, and maintained pursuant to specifications that are above and beyond the industry's standards," wrote Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokesperson. "Carnival will vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit and is confident that the evidence will show that the whirlpools were not, in fact, the source of Mr. Atwell's alleged infection."

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