Fla. AG Probes Norwegian Cruise's COVID-19 'One-Liners'

By Nathan Hale
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Law360 (March 23, 2020, 8:39 PM EDT) -- Florida's attorney general said Monday that her office has launched an investigation into reports that Norwegian Cruise Line fed sales staff "inaccurate one-liners" that downplayed the danger posed by the coronavirus outbreak to use as responses to questions from concerned customers.

The consumer protection probe comes in response to recent media reports, which featured emails and company memos the publications said were leaked by whistleblowers. The messages showed that managers for the cruise line, which has its corporate headquarters in Miami, advised sales agents to tell consumers they would face little risk of catching the virus on a cruise, with lines such as "the only thing you need to worry about for your cruise is do you have enough sunscreen."

"We are in the thick of a public health crisis like our modern world has never experienced," Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. "My consumer protection division is conducting an extensive investigation to get to the bottom of the disturbing allegations against Norwegian Cruise Lines. Let this serve as a warning to anyone seeking to mislead consumers during these challenging times. I will do everything within the power of this office to hold accountable those who would prey on Floridians during this health crisis."

Norwegian has been fully cooperating in the early going of the investigation, Moody's office said. The company, which is incorporated in Bermuda, did not immediately respond to a request for further comment late Monday.

The reports already had prompted investor Eric Douglas to file a proposed class action accusing Norwegian of inflating the company's stock price through allegedly false or misleading statements in relation to the coronavirus outbreak. Like the rest of the cruise industry, Norwegian suffered sharp drops in its stock value over the past few weeks as the government and health experts advised against cruise ship travel and consumer interest plummeted, according to the suit.

The attorney general's statement said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and countless health experts have said the statements attributed to Norwegian are blatantly false.

The statement quotes the CDC's website as saying, "The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community." The CDC also advises people to "defer all cruise travel worldwide."

In one reported script, sales agents were encouraged to pressure potential customers to act quickly to avoid high prices because the cancellation of the company's Asia cruises had purportedly resulted in a surge of demand in cruises to other locations.

Other reported lines include statements that coronavirus is not a concern in warm Caribbean climates and that health experts have confirmed the disease will end with the arrival of warmer spring weather.

The attorney general's office said the investigation into Norwegian is just one of several actions Moody has taken to prevent price gouging and scams arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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

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