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COVID-19 Wrongful Death Suit Against Cruise Line Harbinger of Litigation to Come

May 11, 2020

COVID-19 Wrongful Death Suit Against Cruise Line Harbinger of Litigation to Come

May 11, 2020

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Lawsuits of this nature, challenging businesses’ notice of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are already increasing.

On May 4, 2020, Christopher Weidner filed a wrongful death claim against Carnival Corporation and a subsidiary company, Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the companies’ negligence caused his father, 74-year-old Carl Weidner, to contract COVID-19 while on a cruise.  

Weidner’s complaint sets out a lengthy timeline detailing his claims that the cruise line was aware some its passengers may have been experiencing COVID-like symptoms, yet allegedly failed to take the appropriate precautions to protect and notify other passengers. Specifically, Weidner alleges that a potential outbreak of COVID-19 on Carnival’s Grand Princess vessel first became known on February 19, 2020, when a passenger reported COVID-19-like symptoms to the ship’s medical staff. Two days later, the ship docked in San Francisco; while most disembarked at that port, approximately 62 passengers and 1,000 crew members stayed aboard for the ship’s next voyage to the Hawaiian Islands. Weidner alleges that, although the new passengers, including his father, were not informed of the potential outbreak, the cruise line did send an email on February 25, 2020, to inform the passengers who disembarked in San Francisco about their potential exposure. In addition to the alleged lack of notice to passengers, Weidner further argues that the cruise line failed to implement appropriate sanitary precautions onboard the Grand Princess for several more days―waiting until March 4, 2020, to impose cabin quarantine measures. Ultimately, the cruise was cut short that same day, but because of California’s state of emergency declaration, passengers could not deboard the ship until March 10, 2020.

Passengers departing the Grand Princess were transported to Travis Air Force Base, where they were held for quarantine. Weidner claims this trip took over three hours, during which time the passengers rode “in close proximity” on buses. Within just a few days of leaving the ship, Weidner’s father tested positive for COVID-19, and his condition allegedly deteriorated rapidly, leading to his death on March 26, 2020. In light of these allegations, Weidner asserts claims for common law negligence, negligence under the Death on the High Seas Act and gross negligence.

Lawsuits of this nature, challenging businesses’ notice of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are already increasing, and will likely grow exponentially once courts resume normal operations across the country. In fact, just days before Weidner filed his complaint, a group of fellow Grand Princess passengers initiated a proposed class action against Carnival on similar allegations in the District Court for the Northern District of California. Other large-scale litigation in a wide range of industries, beyond travel, is likely to follow as more information emerges about sources of potential exposures to COVID-19 and patient testing increases.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Alyson Walker Lotman, Matthew Decker, any of the attorneys in our Trial Practice Group, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.