Cruise Lines Face Lawsuits From Passengers and Crew Over COVID-19 Outbreaks

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

Cruise Lines Face Lawsuits From Passengers and Crew Over COVID-19 Outbreaks

The novel coronavirus has exposed a number of negligent, reckless, and even intentional failings in a number of industries. But some of the greatest public health failings during the time of COVID-19 have occurred on cruises.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 800 cases of COVID-19 occurred as a result of outbreaks on three cruise ships. This number includes both crew members and passengers. At least 10 people have already passed away after contracting COVID-19 onboard a cruise ship. The cruise lines in question now face mounting litigation as information about their failure to address the spread of COVID-19 surges.

Pending Lawsuits Against Members of the Cruise Industry

Several lawsuits, including a few class actions, have already been filed against various cruise lines whose ships became sites for transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Princess Cruises faces several legal claims against various parties after the Grand Princess cruise ship saw several COVID-19 cases among its population. One such lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims that Princess Cruises failed to alert her and her husband that they could be exposed to COVID-19 when they boarded the Grand Princess on February 21, 2020. The woman’s husband began suffering coronavirus symptoms while on board the Grand Princess and ultimately died of complications from the virus. The plaintiff caught COVID-19 as well.

Another case, a class action filed in the Southern District of Florida against Celebrity Cruises, Inc., alleges that Celebrity Cruises failed to protect crewmembers from COVID-19. The claim alleges that the company did not provide masks or gloves to crewmembers, nor did it enforce social distancing “despite Celebrity having prior notice pertaining to the dangerous conditions and/or explosive contagiousness associated with COVID-19 aboard its vessels from previous passengers, crewmembers and/or other invitees.”

How Cruise Lines Failed to Protect Passengers and Crew

To date, lawsuits against the cruise industry generally focus on cruise lines’ failure to protect passengers and crew members from harm. Despite knowing about the risks COVID-19 posed to their particular crew or passengers, these suits allege, cruise lines did nothing to mitigate those risks or to warn passengers and crew about them.

For example, the lawsuit against Princess Cruises claims that the cruise line allowed over 60 passengers exposed to the coronavirus to remain on board the Grand Princess, without warning the passengers about the risks or informing them about what was occurring. The lawsuit also claims that Princess Cruises didn’t quarantine passengers for two weeks after discovering the coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship—a delay that led to additional infections and deaths.

The claim against Celebrity Cruises on behalf of cruise line employees focuses on Celebrity Cruises’ alleged failure to “follow even the most basic safety precautions” regarding coronavirus transmission, such as supplying masks to staff, quarantining those who showed symptoms, or requiring crewmembers to practice social distancing.

Cruise Line Crews Left in the Lurch

Nearly 80,000 cruise ship crewmembers are stranded in US ports and on ships docked or sitting just offshore. Many of these individuals are quarantined with active symptoms of coronavirus. Others cannot return home, because they cannot travel to their home countries as long as quarantines and other lockdowns are in place.

Currently, cruise lines are under a “no sail” order issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The order was initially enacted on March 14 and expected to last 30 days, but it was extended for another 100 days in early April. Cruise lines have also been ordered to create detailed, comprehensive plans for virus control before they will be allowed to resume operations.

Expert Witnesses For Cruise Industry Lawsuits

The number of cruise ship-related lawsuits is likely to increase—and so are the number and types of expert witnesses required in these cases.

Expert witnesses with a background in infectious disease or epidemiology will likely be in high demand, as parties seek to understand what steps cruise lines could or should have taken to protect passengers and crew members from infection.

Experts in cruise ship operations and systems may also be needed to explain how COVID-19 or other viruses can be transmitted on board ships and discuss what steps should have been taken to prevent these large-scale outbreaks.

Experts in admiralty law or in immigration regulations may also be called upon in some cases to explain to juries why, for example, a crewmember who disembarked at a US port was required to find lodging there, rather than return to their home in the US or abroad.

As COVID-19 cases continue to develop, claims against cruise lines and other businesses are likely to increase as well. Many such cases will call upon the skill and knowledge of experts in various fields to clarify facts and reach informed conclusions.

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