Lawsuit Targets Princess Cruises Over Coronavirus Cases
San Francisco lawyers Mary Alexander and Elizabeth Cabraser seek class action
Published in 2020 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine on April 28, 2020
What was supposed to be a dream cruise around the Hawaiian islands ended in an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the Grand Princess, the eventual deaths of two passengers and a crew member, and now a lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines, filed by San Francisco attorneys Mary Alexander, at Mary Alexander & Associates, and Elizabeth Cabraser, at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.
On Feb. 21, when the Grand Princess headed out for Hawaii, it had returned to San Francisco that same day from a cruise to Mexico, on which a 71-year-old passenger reported respiratory symptoms. The ship took on about 2,000 new passengers in San Francisco; most of the crew, as well as dozens of passengers, from the Mexico cruise remained aboard. Meanwhile, the ill passenger went home, tested positive for coronavirus within a week, and became California’s first reported COVID-19 death.
It wasn’t the cruise line’s first brush with the virus; on Feb. 19, passengers were allowed to leave the Diamond Princess following a two-week quarantine in a Japanese port after 10 people on the ship tested positive for coronavirus. (Eventually, hundreds of people were infected and nine died.)
The lawsuit involving the Grand Princess, filed against Princess Cruise Lines, Fairline Shipping, and their parent company, Carnvial Cruises, seeks class-action status and accuses the cruise line of failing to: properly disinfect the Grand Princess, test/screen passengers going to Hawaii, and inform the new passengers that a man on the previous cruise had exhibited symptoms that could be associated with coronavirus.
“Princess should have taken the ship out of service on February 21,” says plaintiff’s personal injury attorney Alexander. Safety measures are particularly important, she adds, “when there is a known danger.”
On Feb. 25, the lawsuit alleges, the cruise line emailed passengers who had disembarked in San Francisco from the Mexico cruise, telling them they might have been exposed to COVID-19, but did not email passengers onboard the ship in Hawaii. Those passengers, according to the suit, received notices on March 4—the day the 71-year-old man on the earlier cruise died—about their potential exposure, and the suit says it was about March 5 when the ship began in-cabin quarantine and meal service, and ended all group activities.
The CDC took coronavirus-test kits to the Grand Princess by helicopter for all the passengers who were feeling ill at that point. Princess decided to return to San Francisco rather than continue to Mexico, as previously planned.
“Gov. Newsome declared a state of emergency and ordered the ship to remain outside of the Golden Gate for days,” says Alexander. It docked in Oakland on March 9. “The passengers were not allowed to leave the ship until the next day. Some were bused to Travis Air Force Base and some to Miramar Base in San Diego; a few to Texas and Georgia.” All were ordered to spend 14 days in quarantine.
More than 1,000 passengers chose to be tested; more than a hundred were positive.
The lawsuit alleges “the continued and repeated choice not to quarantine or otherwise shelter in their cabins the passengers and crew members who traveled on the San Francisco-Mexico voyage demonstrates a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. … Defendants chose to place profits over people, including the safety of their passengers, crew and the general public.”
The Mercury News reported that Princess Cruises, in a statement, said it does not comment on pending litigation. The newspaper reported the cruise line’s statement as saying, “Princess Cruises has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew. 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.”
Alexander says cruise lines need to be particularly careful when it comes to safeguarding their customers’ health. “The cruise industry targets and serves an older population, including many people well into their 80s,” she says. “That population is more vulnerable to infectious disease, not only because of age, but they have lived long enough to develop other underlying conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.”
For more information and articles for legal professionals navigating COVID-19 as it relates to their law practice and clients, visit FindLaw’s COVID-19 resource center or visit superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).