New lawsuits claim Princess Cruises knew of coronavirus exposure before ships went to sea


USA Today

Two new lawsuits allege that Princess Cruises didn’t take adequate steps to protect passengers on two ships that became the focus of international attention when they were struck by outbreaks of the coronavirus.

The lawsuits allege that the cruise line failed to adequately screen for COVID-19 during the boarding process aboard the Grand Princess and Ruby Princess and then didn’t act fast enough to impose a quarantine when cases were discovered.

“This is part of a bigger picture of how terribly mismanaged the whole coronavirus outbreak was by the entire cruise industry,” says Michael Winkleman, the Miami-based attorney whose firm filed both suits in U.S. District Court in California. He says the virus spread “because of failure to act reasonably and promptly.”

The suits, one of several that have already been filed, seek class-action status for passengers aboard both the Grand Princess and Ruby Princess.

In an email to USA TODAY, Princess Cruises said it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but that it has been “sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew.”

The cruise line added that “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.”

The Grand Princess lawsuit states that a passenger started showing symptoms of the coronavirus eight days after the ship departed for Mexico on Feb. 11. Despite the likelihood that the passenger had the virus when boarding, proper screening procedures had not been in place, the suit alleges.

Then, it says, new passengers were allowed to board the Grand Princess within hours after its arrival in San Francisco on Feb. 21 before the ship had been adequately cleaned. The ship sailed to Hawaii, but on the way back passengers were quarantined after a passenger from the previous cruise to Mexico tested positive for the coronavirus.

Even when the ship was allowed to dock in Oakland, California on March 9, social distancing of disembarking passengers wasn’t ordered, the suit says.

As for the Ruby Princess, that suit says the ship left Sydney, Australia, on a cruise on Feb. 24 even though it was aware of at least one passenger showing symptoms for the coronavirus. On the voyage, 158 passengers became sick, including 13 with a high temperature, a COVID-19 symptom.

As with the Grand Princess, the suit alleges the cruise line let new passengers board the Ruby Princess on March 8 in Sydney before the crew could adequately sanitize the vessel. By then, with the coronavirus having become international news, passengers who expressed concern were told the ship was safe and that the company would not reimburse them if they tried to cancel their trip. The new passengers were not screened for the virus, the suit says.

The first suspected case of COVID-19 – a passenger who had been on the prior voyage – was discovered March 13. Five other passengers showed symptoms the following day. Eventually, 128 passengers and crew were believed to have the virus, but other passengers on the ship were not told of their risk of exposure, according to the suit.

“Princess Cruises’ negligent misconduct was predicated on a profit motive,” the suit states. “The voyage set sail knowing it was a virtual certainty that there would be an outbreak.”

Like all cruise lines, Princess has suspended operations due to the pandemic. Last week, it said it will be extending the suspension into October because of ports of call around the world that remain closed.