A class action lawsuit against Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines related to the COVID-19 outbreak has gone to trial in Australia. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs—who include passengers, crew members, and families—are alleging that Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 onboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship in March 2020.

Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines Try Various Tactics To Avoid Liability for COVID-19 Exposure

In seeking to avoid liability for the spread of the COVID-19 virus onboard the Ruby Princess, Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines appear to be trying a variety of defense strategies. For example, The Guardian reports that attorneys for the cruise lines (Carnival chartered the March 2020 cruise while Princess Cruise Lines owns the Ruby Princess) have argued that:

  • The Australian government had not imposed any screening requirements before the cruise set sail.
  • The Australian government had not imposed any international travel restrictions before the cruise set sail.
  • There was no requirement from the New South Wales Department of Health to have enough masks onboard for all passengers and crew members.
  • When the cruise set sail in March 2020, COVID-19 “was presenting as a mild disease in most cases and there was no evidence to support airborne spread.”
  • Even if the cruise lines had taken precautions, “those precautions would not have been capable of eliminating the virus from the cruise ship or any other environment.”

The Guardian also quotes an attorney for the cruise lines as stating that “[h]umans are prepared to take risks” and that passengers had the option to isolate themselves if they chose to do so.

There are several problems with these arguments, and the cruise lines’ attorneys even appear to be contradicting themselves in some cases based on The Guardian’s reporting. For example, while the cruise lines’ attorneys argued that passengers could have isolated themselves, this seems at odds with their arguments that, at the time, COVID-19 appeared to be a mild disease. If passengers believed the disease was mild, it is highly unlikely that they would have chosen to isolate themselves while on a cruise—particularly if the cruise line was not issuing any safety warnings.

Additionally, while the cruise lines’ attorneys argued that “there were many places on the Ruby Princess where people could self-isolate,” The Guardian reports that when passengers were disembarking from the cruise, “[c]rew lined the gangway . . . some seen coughing and spluttering” in close proximity to passing passengers. Thus, even if passengers had known that they should self-isolate and chosen to do so onboard, it appears that the cruise lines put them in a high-risk situation as they were disembarking.

Other problems with the cruise lines’ defenses in the class action lawsuit include:

  • Even if the government was not imposing screening requirements, masking requirements or international travel restrictions at the time, the cruise lines still had a legal duty to make their own informed decisions. By March 2020, there were alreadymany well-documented reports of the communicability and health risks associated with COVID-19.
  • While it may be true that safety precautions could not have “eliminated” COVID-19 onboard the Ruby Princess, taking safety precautions could have almost certainly prevented the virus from spreading as widely as it did. The Guardian reports that at least a quarter of the ship’s passengers likely contracted COVID-19 onboard, and taking appropriate safety precautions likely would have reduced this number significantly.

There Is Strong Evidence That the Cruise Lines Could (and Should) Have Done More to Protect Passengers and Crew Members from COVID-19.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Australia class action are likewise asserting several arguments at trial. However, unlike the cruise lines’ arguments, the plaintiffs’ arguments appear to stand on solid ground. For example, as reported by The Guardian, the plaintiffs’ arguments for liability include:

  • Two of the Ruby Princess’s sister ships experienced COVID-19 outbreaks in the weeks before the Ruby Princess set sail. One of these ships, the Diamond Princess, reportedly experienced 700 COVID-19 infections and seven deaths.
  • The Ruby Princess itself had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak on a prior cruise. The plaintiffs’ lawyers assert that “dozens of passengers” reported symptoms after that cruise, and “[a]s a result . . . the Ruby Princess had insufficient medical supplies to combat an outbreak.”
  • The Ruby Princess’s crew had attempted to obtain enough masks for the ship’s passengers prior to setting sail but were unable to do so due to the global shortage triggered by the pandemic. Thus, while the cruise lines’ defense attorneys argued that they didn’t know masks were necessary because the government hadn’t issued a mandate, at the same time they were attempting to obtain masks.

Ultimately, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued, based on these facts the Ruby Princess “never should have sailed” and “[i]t was negligent to do so.”

The trial remains ongoing, and, as it is governed by Australian federal law, the outcome is likely to have a relatively limited impact on similar cases pending in the United States. But, the case is nonetheless instructive, as it illustrates the types of strained arguments cruise lines are asserting in an attempt to avoid liability despite the clear facts at hand.

COVID-19 Exposure On Cruise Ships Continues to Be a Risk—and Continues to Lead to Financial and Non-Financial Costs

With cruise lines resuming operations in 2022, COVID-19 exposure remains a risk for passengers, and passengers who have contracted COVID-19 on cruise ships previously are continuing to incur both financial and non-financial costs. For victims and their families, obtaining just compensation is an important part of the recovery process, and those who have questions about their legal rights should consult with an attorney promptly.

Speak with an Attorney About Your Legal Rights

Do you have questions about filing a lawsuit for COVID-19 exposure on a cruise ship? If so, we invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at Brais Law Firm. To speak with an attorney in confidence as soon as possible, please call 800-499-0551 or send us a message online now.

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