The first negligence lawsuit arising from the Covid-19 pandemic has already been filed. On March 9, 2020, a couple sued Princess Cruises for their experience onboard the Grand Princess Cruise ship. An outbreak of Covid-19 on the Grand Princess resulted in 28 or more cases of the virus.
There will be a ton of lawsuits that directly or indirectly involve the coronavirus. Like the virus itself, I can’t figure out quite how it will all play out. But it will be a big thing for years to come, even long after this virus is hopefully long gone or controlled.
Background of This Case
In early February, the Grand Princess took a trip to Mexico. Onboard was a man infected with coronavirus, who later died after disembarking in San Francisco. He became the first death from Covid-19 in the state of California. One other person on this trip was infected as well.
About sixty people from the Mexico cruise stayed onboard for the next cruise, a 15-day trip to Hawaii. The passengers aboard the Grand Princess had no idea they were about to become the subject of international news as Covid-19 quickly spread among them.
At first, the Grand Princess started canceling events. Then, it told the 60 passengers who may have come into contact with the infected man on the previous voyage to stay in their rooms. Everyone else carried on like normal. Eventually, all passengers were told to stay in their rooms, as crew members brought meals and other supplies to their doors.
Instead of stopping in Mexico during its return journey, the ship instead turned back towards San Francisco. The California coastguard helicoptered testing kits onto the ship. 19 crew members and 2 passengers tested positive at that time. The CDC reports that, in the end, the incident resulted in 28 cases—that number may continue to grow.
Eventually, the Grand Princess docked in Oakland and allowed some passengers off the ship. Now, after docking in San Francisco, all the passengers are back onshore. Some of its crew members are still quarantining for the 14-day period aboard the ship. Many passengers are being quarantined at military bases.
Passengers have reported poor conditions aboard the ship and during the quarantine. Complaints have included things like late meal delivery, waiting to have their temperature taken, and being driven in crowded buses, contrary to social distancing protocol.
All of this comes less than a month after another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined off the coast of Japan, resulting in 696 cases and 8 deaths. Princess Cruises, as well as many other cruise lines, has had to deal with other diseases, such as the norovirus, onboard before.
The First Covid-19 Negligence Lawsuits
On March 9th, a couple that disembarked in Oakland filed suit against Princess Cruises. The husband and wife claim that Princess should have worked harder to prevent the spread of Covid-19 aboard the ship. They claim Princess knew that two passengers on the previous voyage to Mexico were infected and that the company allowed those passengers to disembark and new passengers to board, anyway.
They are suing for more than $1 million in damages over claims of gross negligence. The lawsuit says that the couple is in immediate risk of physical harm and that they are suffering from emotional distress. The couple’s lawyer says they would have not boarded the ship at all or would have gotten off in Honolulu if they had been informed of the danger.
At least five more lawsuits have been filed by passengers of the Grand Princess, with more likely to follow. Princess Cruises announced that it would suspend all cruises for two months. Its President Jan Swartz said, “By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world.”
What to Expect from Covid-19 Litigation
Many different entities are likely to face legal actions in the aftermath of the coronavirus, from governments to employers.
When it comes to personal injuries, cruise lines are not the only ones who could see lawsuits as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. Hospitals, first responders, nursing homes, daycares, hotels, employers, and others may also get in trouble if they do not take prompt action to prevent their employees, those they serve, and the general public from contracting the disease.
Deaths from Covid-19 can occur in high concentrations in such situations. Many deaths occurred, for example, in a nursing home in Seattle and from the mishandled Diamond Princess cruise.
The outcome of lawsuits that allege negligence against cruise lines and similar entities is anyone’s guess. In the case of the Grand Princess, it will depend on if Princess Cruises did everything in its power and followed all the guidance it was given. In other words, did the cruise line take all reasonable measures at its disposal to protect its passengers?
Another unknown is whether the victims suffered any injuries that would justify a lawsuit. Certainly, wrongful death claims are another story. But when it comes to emotional distress or other injuries, were their injuries life-changing? Was Princess Cruises responsible for the injury?
I Don’t Know How to Close This Post
I like to close my blog post with the take-home message of the post. I don’t know what the take-home message is here. I don’t know where this virus is going. I don’t know what I think of these cases. I have no wisdom. I’m just tired of the coronavirus and I want it to go away.