Celebrity Cruises Hit With COVID-19 Class Suit By Worker

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (April 15, 2020, 3:52 PM EDT) -- A Celebrity Cruises crew member who contracted COVID-19 while working on a ship off the coast of France filed a proposed class action Tuesday accusing the cruise company of failing to take appropriate measures to protect thousands of workers on its ships.

Alexandra Nedeltcheva, who works on the new Celebrity Apex that was set to begin sailing the Mediterranean this summer, says the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. subsidiary failed to heed warnings about how quickly the coronavirus could spread on cruise ships, and when measures were taken to protect passengers' safety, crew members were still ordered to continue operations as normal.

Even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's March 14 no-sail order for all cruise ships, Celebrity continued to force crew members on the Apex, which is docked at a port in France, to participate in drills and had a crew party for workers with a large communal buffet line, according to the complaint. Celebrity also allowed independent contractors to freely travel on and off the ship, potentially introducing and spreading the virus, according to the suit.

As of April 6, 350 of Apex's crew members, including Nedeltcheva, had tested positive for the coronavirus, and eight had to be hospitalized in France, according to the suit.

"Despite having notice that COVID-19 was and/or likely was present aboard the vessels, Celebrity glaringly failed to follow even the most basic safety precautions after acquiring such notice, such as timely quarantining crewmembers stationed aboard the vessels, timely providing crewmembers stationed aboard the vessels masks and/or timely requiring them to observe social distancing measures aboard the vessels," Nedeltcheva said.

Nedeltcheva also pointed to the Celebrity Eclipse, which sailed from Argentina on March 1 for what was supposed to be a 14-night cruise in Argentina and Chile. The ship eventually docked in San Diego on March 30 after being denied permission to dock in Chile because of suspected COVID-19 cases on board. For the second half of the month-long voyage, passengers were ordered to self-isolate in their cabins, but crew members had to continue operations as normal and the company did not take any specific safety measures, according to the suit.

At least one crew member on the Eclipse tested positive for the coronavirus, and one passenger later died of the disease after leaving the ship.

Nedeltcheva is alleging negligence under the Jones Act and failure to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical care, among other claims. She estimates that there are at least 10,000 members of the proposed class of Celebrity workers.

A Celebrity spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation. An attorney for Nedeltcheva did not respond to a request for comment. 

Nedeltcheva is represented by Jason R. Margulies, Michael A. Winkleman, Jacqueline Garcell and L. Alex Perez of Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman PA.

Counsel information for Celebrity was unavailable.

The case is Nedeltcheva et al. v. Celebrity Cruises Inc., case number 1:20-cv-21569, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect a response from Celebrity Cruises.

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

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