MIAMI, Fla. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more widely known as the CDC, issued a “no-sail” order to cruise lines serving the United States due to the ease with which the novel coronavirus could spread on a cruise ship according to an NPR report. Voyages will not resume until at least July of 2020, and even then, resumption of cruising as it was once understood will not resume for some time. Cruise lines are partly to blame for their woes. As several lawsuits filed against the world’s most significant cruise lines like Carnival and its subsidiaries point out, these companies did nothing to protect their customers from the diseases that have infected over 3 million people worldwide. Despite what many people believe to be utter negligence, bordering on recklessness, cruise lines have U.S. Maritime law in its favor. Maritime law tends to protect cruise lines from damage awards. However, innovated and aggressive attorneys are making a case to change the law so that justice may be done.
A cruise ship blocked from docking in Oakland, California, had 2,000 passengers on board when the COVID-19 virus broke out. At least two people perished from the virus, and another 100 received positive tests for the virus. What might appear like bad luck at first is genuinely an utter failure by Carnival Cruise lines to protect its passengers. The Princess Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival, which was left floating in the waters off of Oakland, knew that at least one person who tested positive for COVID-19 was on board before the ship invited 2,000 additional passengers to embark. At least 60 people from the first voyage with the confirmed case of COVID-19 remained to mingle among the 2,000 unsuspecting passengers. They had no notion that they were on a boat contaminated by COVID-19.
Another ship in Carnival’s Princess Line, the Ruby Princess, was also ravaged by COVID-19. One of the voyagers aboard the Ruby Princess succumbed to the virus after returning home. The man contracted the disease while cruising on the Ruby Princess. The ship left Sydney, Australia, after the novel coronavirus outbreak started.
Princess cruises knew that COVID-19 was deadly. One of its ships named Diamond Princess was stranded in Asian waters, with about 700 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19. Eight people later died from the COVID-19 infection they caught from the contaminated luxury vessel. Another vessel in the Carnival fleet, the Costa Luminosa, was denied entry at several ports because of the number of ill passengers. Several people died from the coronavirus on the Costa Luminosa.
The evidence is clear, and there is little dispute about the devastation the novel coronavirus caused on several cruise ships. Anyone filing a lawsuit seeking money damages from a cruise line has a massive hurdle to negotiate. Several laws protect cruise lines, most notably maritime and contract laws.
One of the country’s most notoriously unfair maritime laws is the Death of the High Seas Act. The law that dates back over 100 years limits the number of damages the estate of a person who died on a vessel could win as compensation for a cruise ship owner’s negligence. Any deaths that occurred more than three miles offshore from the U.S. mainland fall under the Death on the High Seas Act. The Act limits damages to the payment of funeral expenses and lost wages only.
One way to prevent the application of an arcane and unjust law is to allege the cruise line’s wrongdoing happened before the boat ever left the dock. By arguing that the cruise line was negligent for failing to screen boarding passengers, the Death on the High Seas Act might not apply.
Another legal blockade the plaintiffs face is rooted deeply in contract law. The boarding pass for a cruise contains contract language that purports to bind the passenger to limited remedies and requires the injured party to file in certain courts only. It is no coincidence that the courts cruise lines consent to be sued in are very friendly to the cruising industry.
The time to break new ground is now for plaintiffs and their families who suffered death, illness, and indignity because cruise lines did not do what they were supposed to do. Cruise lines should be prepared. They typically covered by enormous insurance policies that would cover any losses in court.
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