Costa Cruise passengers file class-action lawsuit alleging mishandling of coronavirus crisis


USA Today

A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed against Costa Cruises, a Carnival subsidiary, alleging the company neglected to inform Costa Luminosa passengers about potential coronavirus exposure and failed to take necessary precautions to protect those aboard. But such a lawsuit likely won’t gain much traction, according to experts.

Passengers “were dragged across the Atlantic in a ticking coronavirus time bomb which to date has resulted in at least seven deaths,” said maritime attorney Michael Winkleman of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman P.A.

The lawsuit, filed in Florida on Tuesday, says a 68-year-old Italian passenger from a previous voyage, who disembarked Feb. 29, exhibited coronavirus symptoms. He ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus and died. But the cruise line failed to disclose the man’s condition ahead of the ship’s subsequent sailing, which departed on March 5, according to the filing.

The suit argues Costa exposed more than 2,000 passengers to the virus. The coronavirus has killed more than 83,000 people around the world and infected more than 1.4 million.

USA TODAY has reached out to Costa Cruises and Carnival for comment.

The lawsuit says that the ship was not adequately cleaned between voyages and that the company assured passengers there was no need to be concerned and the ship was not affected by the virus.

An outbreak ultimately occurred on the ship, and it was denied entry at multiple ports of call. An elderly Italian couple was sent to the hospital after the ship docked in Puerto Rico on March 8. They were residents of Northern Italy, which had been a coronavirus hot spot, and tested positive for the virus.

According to the lawsuit, it took the company two days to send passengers into isolation in their staterooms after learning the couple had tested positive.

France allowed the ship entry into Marseille on March 19, and the suit says passengers were not instructed to practice social distancing while disembarking, according to the suit. Dozens had tested positive for the virus at that juncture.

The lawsuit makes reference to several cruise ships that gave the industry warning about the coronavirus threat: the Grand Princess and Diamond Princess, which each faced coronavirus outbreaks.

“It would only stand to reason, that knowing of these prior traumatic outbreaks on two of its sister company’s vessels less than a month prior to the subject voyage on the Costa Luminosa, that Costa would have learned to take all necessary precautions to keep its passengers, crew and the general public safe,” according to the lawsuit. “This likely would have meant that the voyage, in its entirety, would have been cancelled (notably the entire global cruise industry was suspended roughly one week after the Costa Luminosa sailing).”

Two Grand Princess passengers filed a lawsuit against Princess last month.

But experts and fellow attorneys say these suits face an uphill battle against restrictive terms of service buried in passengers’ paperwork and maritime laws that predate the sinking of the Titanic by half a century.

Nearly all legal cases are limited to losses related to physical injuries, not emotional or psychological damage. The Death on the High Seas Act, first passed in the 1920s and updated only once since, prevents survivors from suing for their emotional distress or pain and suffering even when a loved one dies on a ship at sea.

A law from 1850 still lets vessel owners limit their liability to the value of the ship. Class actions aren’t allowed. Statutes of limitations can be as short as a year.