Class Action Coronavirus Lawsuits May be Challenged by Ticket Language

coronavirus lawsuits

Plaintiffs are asking for class action status for 98 lawsuits filed against Costa Cruise Lines, Inc.  The coronavirus lawsuits relate to how Costa handled the novel coronavirus COVID-19 while sailing.  In March 2020, two cruise ship passengers, Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez, on board the Costa Luminosa tested positive for coronavirus.  They report “frantically” asking the captain to let them disembark.  Instead, the ship continued to sail.

The Hernandezes almost cancelled their trip, but say that Costa assured them that precautions were taken to keep passengers safe.  They say that Costa knew, however, that at least one person from the previous voyage had symptoms of coronavirus.

A spokesperson for Costa says that the company did step up sanitation procedures and implemented temperature checks and quarantine after they learned about the positive tests.  Passengers, however, claim that they have suffered enormously at the hands of the cruise line.  They argue that cruise lines should have known how contagious and dangerous coronavirus was after the massive outbreak on the Diamond Princess in February.

Ticket Language May Challenge Coronavirus Lawsuits

Class action status would allow a select few plaintiffs to act on behalf of all plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit.  In this case, at least 98 plaintiffs.  However, language on cruise tickets may challenge the plaintiffs’ abilities to seek class action status.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Costa Luminosa lawsuit say that the ticket language and prohibition on class action lawsuits is “patently unfair.” They contend that the cruise line acted “intentionally by exposing passengers to a highly contagious virus.”

When passengers purchase a cruise ticket, there is language in the “fine print” that is almost like a legal contract.  The language often includes safeguards to prevent customers from filing lawsuits against the cruise line.  This language is designed to protect cruise lines from a “rash of litigation.” However, the coronavirus pandemic is unlike any situation the cruise industry has experienced before.

The director of the Tulane Maritime Law Center, Martin Davies, says,

“These claims are enormous – nothing the industry’s seen before with so many passengers fallen sick and bringing suit.”

Protections like those on cruise tickets are not uncommon.  Many businesses include class action waivers in contracts.  Some limit any type of litigation opting instead for arbitration clauses.  Most cruise customers have no idea what they are actually getting into when they purchase a ticket.  There may be 20 pages of fine print, instructions and limitations for each ticket.

Most customers likely do not take the time to read over all of this information.  Those that do may not fully understand the legal jargon or references to certain laws.  The average tourist is not aware of laws like the Death on the High Seas Act or The Jones Act.  These maritime laws are complex.  Adding to already complex laws is the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented.

Hundreds of Coronavirus Lawsuits Filed Against Cruise Lines

It is not only Costa Cruise Lines that is under scrutiny and facing numerous coronavirus lawsuits.  So far, hundreds of lawsuits are pending against cruise lines including:

  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd.

Many of the lawsuits filed by passengers claim that cruise lines knew that previous or current passengers had symptoms or had tested positive, but ships continued to sail.  Some even argue that ships took on new passengers after identifying passengers with positive test results.  On some ships, passengers who may have been exposed to the virus were not tested for up to two weeks later.

Other lawsuits relate to how well cruise lines inspect and sanitize ships.  The cruise industry largely avoids large-scale litigation related to infectious diseases.  Even though Norovirus periodically makes headlines due to outbreaks on cruise ships, most of these events do not spark litigation.

Now, coronavirus lawsuits question how well cruise operators sanitize ships between voyages.  Cruise ships are subject to surprise inspections twice per year.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program requires that ships make at least an 86 on these inspections.  The Costa Luminosa’s last inspection in January resulted in a score of 94.

The cruise industry argues that cruise ships generally “perform extremely well” on inspections.  However, routine inspections generally do not look for the type of contagious pathogen that is COVID-19.

Uncertainty Remains as Number of Lawsuits Rises

An increasing number of lawsuits are being filed by cruise ship passengers and crew members.  There is a great deal of uncertainty about just how these cases will proceed through the legal process – if at all.  The coronavirus pandemic has challenged many systems and processes because it is something the U.S. has never experienced before.  Uncertainty amidst already complex legal matters results in a lot of “ifs” about the success of coronavirus lawsuits.

Have Questions about Coronavirus Lawsuits?

If you have questions about coronavirus lawsuits or your legal rights as a cruise ship passenger or crew member, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  Our coronavirus cruise ship lawyer handles cases nationwide.  We handle cases involving cruise ship passengers and crew members.  We can help you understand your legal rights and options related to a variety of maritime legal matters.

If you have suffered an injury or illness while on board a cruise ship, we can help you find out the best way to ensure that your rights are protected.  To request a free injury consultation, call us at 1-877-363-6148, or complete our online form.

 

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