Quarantined Couple Say Princess Cruises Hid COVID-19 Risk

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (March 9, 2020, 7:27 PM EDT) -- A South Florida couple quarantined on a Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. ship off the coast of California sued the cruise company Monday for allegedly failing to take precautions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak on the ship after two passengers on the previous sailing disembarked with symptoms.

Broward County residents Ronald and Eva Weissberger, who are onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland, California, on Monday afternoon following four days of quarantine, say Princess knew at least two passengers who disembarked on Feb. 21 had symptoms of the respiratory disease but did not tell passengers who were boarding that day.

The ship set sail for Hawaii with 62 passengers who had been on the prior voyage and were exposed to the infected passengers, one of whom later died, according to the suit filed in California federal court.

Princess also failed to tell passengers that a crew member on the ship disembarked in Hawaii because of coronavirus, according to the suit.

The Weissbergers say Princess should have learned from the coronavirus outbreak in early February on the Diamond Princess ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan. More than 700 people were infected in that case.

"It would only stand to reason, that having experienced such a traumatic outbreak on board one of its vessels less than a month prior to the current voyage on board the Grand Princess, that the defendant would have learned to take all necessary precautions to keep its passengers, crew and the general public safe," the Weissbergers said. "Unfortunately, the defendant Princess did no such thing."

They say the cruise line did not have proper preboarding screening protocols for coronavirus, and while the company on Feb. 25 notified passengers on the previous sailing about the two infected passengers, the Weissbergers and the others on the ship at the time were not told. The couple say they would have disembarked at the first port of call in Honolulu on Feb. 26 had they known.

Beginning March 5, the ship was sequestered off the coast of San Francisco, and the Weissbergers and other passengers have been locked in their rooms. Their attorneys say Ronald Weissberger, who is 75, has a heart condition and has begun to cough.

There have been 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus on the ship from 19 crew members and two passengers, according to the Weissbergers' attorneys.

On Monday afternoon, the ship docked in Oakland, where the passengers were to be examined and taken to quarantine sites. 

The Weissbergers' daughter Debi Chalik, who filed the lawsuit on their behalf, said on Monday evening that her parents have not yet disembarked and are hoping to leave Tuesday. She said they still have no idea where they will be going and have not yet received the heart medication her father needs.

"Defendant Princess chose to place profits over the safety of its passengers, crew and the general public in continuing to operate business as usual, despite their knowledge of the actual risk of injury to plaintiffs, who are elderly with underlying medical conditions," according to the suit.

In a statement, Princess said it had not yet received the complaint and could not comment on the allegations.

"Princess has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew," the company said. "Our response throughout this process has focused on [the] well-being of our guests and crew within the parameters mandated on us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness."

The Weissbergers are represented by Michael A. Simmrin of Simmrin Law Group and Debi F. Chalik of Chalik & Chalik PA.

Counsel information for Princess Cruise Lines was unavailable.

The case is Weissberger et al. v. Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., case number 2:20-cv-02267, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Update: This story has been updated to add comments from Chalik.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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