Coronavirus and the Law: Grand Princess Cruise Ship Passengers Sue over the Cruise Line’s Alleged Gross Negligence
The sweeping impact of COVID-19, commonly known as “Coronavirus,” has been felt everywhere – schools, workplaces, restaurants, and more. Now, Coronavirus is making its way into courtrooms and presenting the legal industry with several novel theories and challenges. In today’s blog, we delve into the legal effects of the Grand Princess cruise ship situation and analyze the batch of lawsuits already filed against the cruise line company.
Grand Princess Cruise Ship Quarantined off the San Francisco Coast
What was supposed to be a leisurely spring cruise to Hawaii ended in panic for more than 3,500 passengers and crew members on the Grand Princess cruise ship. Specifically, it was discovered that a California man who was on the same ship in February contracted Coronavirus and eventually died as a result. While on its voyage, 21 people aboard the ship contracted Coronavirus, causing California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency. Governor Newsom further restricted passengers of the ship from entering mainland San Francisco before additional testing could be conducted.
After being quarantined on the ship for five days, most passengers were transferred to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California (among other military bases) for a 14-day quarantine period. This quarantine was set to end the week of March 23, but according to ABC News and the New York Times, there have been issues with passengers refusing tests, as well as with delays in test results and a general lack of available tests.
Lawsuits Pour in Over Grand Princess’s Handling of the Coronavirus Outbreak
On the legal end, at least five separate lawsuits have already been filed by passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship. The first lawsuit was filed on March 7 by an elderly Florida couple who were actually onboard the ship at the time of filing. The plaintiffs, Ronald and Eva Weissberger, claimed that Grand Princess exhibited gross negligence by failing to warn the plaintiffs of the health risks present on the ship, and by placing “profits over the safety of its passengers, crew, and the general public[.]” The plaintiffs also pointed out that, in addition to the February incident involving a death from Coronavirus, Grand Princess’s ship “the Diamond Princess” suffered a separate Coronavirus outbreak in Japan just weeks before. As a result of Grand Princess’s alleged negligence in ignoring these risks, the Weissbergers seek $1 million in damages.
Since this first case was filed, several more lawsuits have followed in California federal court. Namely, directly after the Weissbergers’ lawsuit, another elderly couple from Ohio sued the cruise ship company alleging gross negligence. This lawsuit, filed by Steven and Tryphena Kurivial, emphasized that the couple has underlying medical conditions and were dangerously exposed to the Coronavirus due to Grand Princess’s negligent decision to continue sailing “on an infected ship.” The Kurivials’ lawsuit also seeks $1 million in damages, as do the number of subsequent lawsuits filed by other Grand Princess passengers in California.
In response to these cases, the company stated that “[Grand] Princess has been sensitive to the difficulties the Covid-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew,” and that it would not comment further on pending litigation. However, as these cases develop, Grand Princess will surely have to address the seriousness of these allegations.
In general, the elements of a negligence claim include: (1) a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) causation; and (4) actual damage. Here, Grand Princess likely owed a duty to care to the passengers on their ship, all of whom suffered significant distress from the ship’s quarantine period. However, it will be interesting to see how the California courts assess the issues of breach, and especially of causation. Grand Princess is expected to challenge these elements on the basis of an intervening factor, i.e., an unforeseen outbreak of Coronavirus. It will ultimately be up to the court to determine whether, and to what degree, Grand Princess was aware of the health risks to its passengers.
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