Negligence Action Filed by Cruise Ship Passengers for Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak

The first lawsuits are being filed in connection with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Of course, may people have lost their lives or have become ill from the disease, and now one group of California residents is now bringing an action in federal court.

A number of passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship are alleging that its owner, Princess Cruises, didn’t do enough to prevent them from becoming sick. The negligence action was filed in the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

The plaintiffs say that the cruise line failed to protect them from the 62 through passengers from an earlier leg of the journey—some of whom were already infected with COVID-19—when they came aboard the Grand Princess to go to Hawaii.

What does the lawsuit allege?

The passengers’ action alleges that the cruise line purports that they have a commitment to “the health, safety, and security” of their passengers and promote their business as one that “always strives to be free of injuries, illness and loss.” The company further states that they “[s]upport a proactive framework of risk mitigation in the areas of HESS [Health, Environment, Safety, Security] aimed at preventing, monitoring and responding to threats.”

However, in spite of these protections, the passengers’ complaint says that in early February 2020, the cruise line became aware of an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard its cruise ship Diamond Princess, while the ship was docked in Yokohama, Japan. Ten cases were originally diagnosed, and that number increased to more than 700 cases or roughly 20% of the passengers onboard. The complain also notes that so far, seven of the Diamond Princess’ passengers have died as a result of COVID-19, and at least two of these fatalities occurred before February 19, 2020.

The plaintiffs say that the cruise line “chose to place profits over people, including the safety of their passengers, crew and the general public,” which resulted in an “utter failure to provide even a modicum of care” to those onboard the Hawaiian island journey that set sail from San Francisco. Because of this, the passengers were “placed at actual, continual risk of immediate, and potentially deadly, physical injury.”

Three aboard the Grand Princess have died so far

To date, there have been reported deaths of two passengers and one crew member who were aboard the Grand Princess. In addition, there have been more than 100 other passengers who were on board the ship and have tested positive. One plaintiff, Pamela Guisti, became infected and needed hospitalization in an intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. The other passengers, all from northern California, say they were “traumatized by the fear of developing COVID-19,” suffered emotional distress, and may require future medical treatment, according to the complaint.

Princess Cruises issued a statement in which they said that the company does not comment on pending litigation.

“Princess Cruises has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew,” the company said. “Our response throughout this process has focused on the well-being of our guests and crew within the parameters dictated to us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness.”

What did the cruise line do to allegedly breach its duty to its passengers?

The passengers’ lawsuit claims that the cruise line company of acting negligently when it knew the risk posed to a cruise ship if a pathogen such as COVID-19 were to get on board. The complaint states that on February 11, 2020, the company operated a roundtrip voyage on the Grand Princess from San Francisco to Mexico, and about a week later, they became aware of at least one passenger suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. A Placer County man reported respiratory symptoms on board and, at the end of February, became California’s first victim from the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, the Grand Princess returned to San Francisco on February 21st and departed for Hawaii the same day with thousands of new passengers. However, 62 remained onboard from the trip to Mexico, and at least two of whom had been infected.

The cruise line’s Chief Medical Officer said that the company thought that the infected passenger was already carrying the virus when he boarded the Grand Princess on February 11, 2020. But despite their knowledge regarding COVID-19, the plaintiffs say that the cruise line had no effective passenger medical screening methods in place at that time.

The complaint also notes that the ship wasn’t disinfected, and no passengers were screened for symptoms. The lawsuit claims that the cruise line didn’t start taking added sanitary precautions until March 3rd and didn’t issue a warning on board until March 4th—the same day that California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency in the state. The Grand Princess continued to host events on board, such as a formal night with dinner, and didn’t begin to quarantine passengers until March 5th—a full two weeks after the passengers had boarded the ship. On March 10th, the plaintiffs, along with approximately 2,000 other Californians on the ship, were taken to quarantine at Travis Air Force Base if they weren’t showing symptoms. If they were showing symptoms, they were taken to Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds.

The plaintiffs’ prayer for relief

The plaintiffs are asking for more than $5 million in financial damages, but also are asking the judge to hold the cruise line company responsible for implementing new safety measures on its ships.

The plaintiffs content that as a direct result of the cruise line’s negligence and gross negligence, they were exposed to actual risk of immediate physical injury. The cruise line breached its duty to ensure the safety of passengers when it failed to ensure that its vessels were properly maintained when it failed to ensure that they were taking steps to disinfect the contaminated vessel, and when it permitted the vessels to continue operate despite their knowledge of the actual and extreme risk to passengers and crew from the coronavirus.

The plaintiffs say that the cruise line “repeatedly acted with conscious, callous, and/or reckless disregard for the rights, interests, health and safety of  their passengers…”

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