Lieff Cabraser Joins COVID-19 Cruise War With Carnival Suit

By Lauren Berg
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Law360 (April 8, 2020, 11:10 PM EDT) -- Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP brought a fresh California federal lawsuit against Carnival Corp. on Wednesday on behalf of a group of passengers alleging the company allowed them to board the Grand Princess ship despite knowing passengers from the previous voyage were suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

Carnival, along with its subsidiary Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. and Fairline Shipping International Corp. Ltd. — which owns the Grand Princess, knew as far back as mid-February that at least one passenger suffered from novel coronavirus symptoms on the vessel during a round-trip voyage from San Francisco to Mexico, but didn't tell the next group of embarking passengers, according to the complaint.

On Feb. 21, the Grand Princess docked in San Francisco, where some of the passengers disembarked, according to the complaint. But 62 passengers — at least two of whom were sick — and more than 1,000 crew members remained on board to travel to the ship's next destination in Hawaii, the plaintiffs said.

Despite this, no medical screenings for disembarking or embarking passengers were put in place and no efforts were made to sanitize or disinfect the ship before new passengers arrived, the plaintiffs said.

"Defendants did not notify passengers who were scheduled to board the vessel on February 21, 2020, that passengers from the prior Mexico trip had reported COVID-19 symptoms, or of the fact that passengers remaining aboard the Grand Princess had been exposed to and might be infected with and/or carrying the virus," according to the complaint.

On Feb. 25, Carnival and Princess sent emails to passengers who disembarked from the Mexico trip to let them know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 during their trip, but no such notice was given to the passengers on the Hawaii cruise, according to the complaint.

It wasn't until March 4 that the plaintiffs on board the ship received a notice that the cruise would skip a stop in Mexico and would instead return directly to San Francisco, according to the complaint. On that day, passengers from the prior Mexico trip began cabin-based quarantine.

"The ship docked in the Port of Oakland [on March 9] met by ambulances and medical personnel," the plaintiffs said. "During the night, a CDC employee, in full hazmat gear, knocked on the door of the cabins asking if the passengers had any symptoms."

The passengers left the ship the next day and were shuttled to nearby Travis Air Force Base, where they were in quarantine for two weeks, the plaintiffs said. If they had known that passengers from the previous Mexico trip had suffered from COVID-19 symptoms, the plaintiffs said they never would have sailed on the Hawaii trip.

The suit was filed on behalf of named plaintiffs Robert Archer, Marlene Archer, Jacqueline Graham, Robert Graham, Pamela Guisti, Michael Guisti, Valerie Pasquini Willsea, Michael R. Neky and Gina M. Pallota.

Plaintiff Pamela Guisti said she was diagnosed and treated for COVID-19 in an intensive care unit as a result of the defendants' alleged negligence.

Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday that Carnival and Princess should have told the incoming passengers about the known presence of coronavirus on the ship.

"With adequate information, passengers could have made informed decisions about their health and their families' health," Cabraser said. "Instead, because of defendants' choices, the passengers were led unknowingly onto a ship where they would be unavoidably mingling in close quarters with over 1,000 other people already exposed to and potentially infected with COVID-19."

This is just one of a wave of cases recently filed against Carnival and its subsidiaries.

In March, Princess was hit with three suits related to the voyages that took place on the Grand Princess, including from a South Florida couple who were quarantined on the ship and two quarantined couples seeking $1 million in damages.

Carnival-owned Costa Cruises was hit with a putative class action on Tuesday alleging it negligently allowed the Costa Luminosa to sail knowing a previous passenger showed symptoms of COVID-19, resulting in 2,000 passengers getting on board a "ticking coronavirus time bomb."

A representative for Carnival did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening. Contact information for Fairline Shipping was not immediately available.

The plaintiffs are represented by Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Jonathan D. Selbin and Mark P. Chalos of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP and Mary E. Alexander and Brendan D.S. Way of Mary Alexander & Associates PC.

Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.

The case is Robert Archer et al. v. Carnival Corp. & PLC et al., case number 3:20-cv-02381, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Additional reporting by Carolina Bolado, Joyce Hanson and Craig Clough. Editing by Michael Watanabe.

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