Legal claims have been filed against Princess Cruise Lines after passengers died of COVID-19 while onboard the company’s ships. According to the claims, the popular cruise line was negligent and mishandled notifying passengers that certain passengers and crew had been exposed to the virus.
Legal experts say it could be difficult for passengers to prove their claims.
According to at least one complaint, Princess contacted passengers four days after they disembarked and informed them that they had been exposed to COVID-19. However, the company gave no warning to passengers who had just boarded the ship. Princess’s Grand Princess Ship tried to return to California after identifying the presence of the virus onboard but was unable to get permission to do so for several days. The ship eventually docked in San Francisco.
One passenger admitted to being shocked that the company would bring new passengers on board a ship that was known to have just had infected passengers disembark.
Mingling Exposed Passengers
Though nobody on board the ship had known symptoms when the new group of passengers boarded, people on board had spent time with others who had developed symptoms. There is an extended period before people who have contracted COVID-19 begin to show symptoms, so it can be several days – and as long as two weeks – before symptoms present.
The lengthy incubation period of the virus is one of the reasons social distancing has been strongly recommended as a mitigation tactic to slow the spread. It’s impossible to know who has the virus immediately after the initial transmission, despite being contagious.
Adding to the risk those on board faced, a ship’s environment is especially susceptible to aid the spread of the virus. There are very few cruise ships with HEPA air filtration systems. These systems, which are now installed on newer airplanes, use ultraviolet light to destroy many viruses and bacteria. Some speculate that environments without these filtration systems such as the cruise ships are up to 20 times more contaminated than some of the cities into which passengers would disembark if they had been permitted to leave the ships.
Legal Challenges Predicted for Cruise Ship Passengers
Several lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks against cruise lines, but it could be difficult for plaintiffs to win.
This is due in part to a law passed nearly a century ago that limits losses linked to physical injuries and allows for no damages for emotional or psychological injuries in cases such as this. Furthermore, the law also prevents survivors from filing wrongful death claims if a loved one dies on board a ship at sea.
Despite the law, several dozen plaintiffs have filed claims against cruise lines.
Cruise Industry Receives Attention during Coronavirus Outbreak
Cruise lines including Princess claim their response during the COVID-19 pandemic has been focused on the safety and health of passengers and crew members. The entire cruise line industry shut down after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued and then extended a No Sail Order.
Since the pandemic began, nearly a dozen cruise ships have reported that both crew members and passengers recently aboard the ships have since tested positive for COVID-19. Some developed symptoms linked to the virus but their cases were not officially confirmed.
There are many cruise ships still at sea carrying thousands of passengers that have been barred from entering ports around the world.
Other Cruise Ship Lines Face Similar Legal Challenges
There have been several people who have died aboard ships whose deaths might have been linked to COVID-19. The Zaandam, a ship in the Holland America Line, which is carrying 1800 passengers and is currently in Panama’s territorial waters, has had four deaths. At least two people on board the ship have tested positive for the virus and more than 50 passengers and 85 crew members have reported flu-like symptoms.
The ship set sail March 7th and was originally scheduled to arrive in Chile on April 25th. The ship’s final stop was on March 14th in Patagonia. It has since been turned away from multiple ports. Its goal destination is Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but so far it has been denied passage through the Panama Canal. In late April, Panama’s Health Minister said passage through the canal would be permitted, but the ship was again denied passage shortly after.
The Zaandam was met by another Holland America ship that delivered COVID-19 test kits, supplies, and relief staff. Symptom-free passengers who are believed not to have been exposed to the virus are expected to be transferred to the back-up ship.
There are currently more than 3.2 million cases of COVID-19 throughout the world.