Law360 (July 14, 2020, 10:36 PM EDT) -- Princess Cruise Lines and its parent company Carnival were hit with a proposed class action Monday in California federal court over a coronavirus outbreak on a March cruise that left at least two dead and passengers trapped in their cabins for days.
The 42-page complaint was filed by North Carolina resident Kathleen O'Neill, who says she tested positive for COVID-19 just after returning home from the cruise. She accuses Miami-based Carnival Corp. and California-based Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. of negligence and inflicting emotional distress on passengers for allowing the Coral Princess to set sail from Chile on March 5, just after outbreaks of the disease on two sister ships in the early days of the global pandemic.
"Carnival cruise lines is the world's largest cruise company and yet failed to protect passengers from serious illness — or death — due to COVID-19," attorney Alison Chase of Keller Rohrback LLP, who is representing O'Neill, said in a statement. "Carnival and Princess continued to sail despite the rapid worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus and did not even implement necessary protocols onboard to minimize the risk to its passengers."
In addition to recounting her and her husband's nightmarish voyage aboard the Coral Princess, O'Neill's complaint also details outbreaks on two other Princess Cruise ships — the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess — that predated their trip.
The Diamond Princess experienced one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks on a cruise ship in early February after setting sail from Asia. More than 700 passengers contracted the virus and 14 died, according to the complaint.
At least one passenger came down with COVID-19 symptoms, which later led to his death, during a Feb. 11 roundtrip cruise from San Francisco to Mexico on the Grand Princess, yet Carnival and Princess sent the ship off on its next scheduled trip to Hawaii without taking extra precautions and with some of the passengers from the Mexico trip still on board, the complaint said.
A reported outbreak prompted California to temporarily deny the ship entry upon its return, and ultimately, more than 130 people on board tested positive and at least five passengers and one crew member died, according to the complaint.
"The timeline of events occurring on the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess demonstrate defendants' knowledge of the severity of COVID-19 and how it could spread quickly and fatally," O'Neill said in her complaint, "By allowing the Coral Princess to depart on March 5, 2020, the defendants ignored all warnings that vessels continuing to sail would likely face the same fate."
In total, Carnival's ships have recorded more than 1,500 positive infections and at least 39 deaths from COVID-19, according to the complaint.
In the case of the Coral Princess, the ship was allowed to leave Valparaiso, Chile, on March 5, despite the recent outbreaks, O'Neill said.
On March 14, the captain announced that they would not be making a scheduled stop in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, the first of several planned stops that had to be altered as countries denied the ship entry because of the coronavirus.
O'Neill said she visited the ship's doctor on March 26 for shoulder pain, unaware at the time that several passengers were already ill. It was not until March 31 that the captain announced that passengers were being asked to return to their cabins, informing them that "an unusually high number of people" were experiencing flu-like symptoms.
"It was then, after everyone had been socializing and making purchases for about 26 days in an environment known to be susceptible to contagion, that the passengers were advised to take these precautions," O'Neill alleges.
The passengers remained confined to their cabins thereafter. Five days later, an announcement said more people had reported to the sick bay and that two passengers had died, according to the complaint.
O'Neill said she developed a cough and began to feel feverish while on board, but guest services told her a thermometer was not available and sold her Tylenol for $3.99. The crew also never responded to requests for her husband's blood pressure medication, the complaint said.
After finally disembarking on April 6, the O'Neills took a chartered flight home to North Carolina and began a 14-day home quarantine. O'Neill tested positive for COVID-19 after an April 9 test. Her husband did not, the complaint said.
O'Neill said she isolated herself at home, suffering from a dry cough, 102-degree fever, chills, sore throat and more, while staying away from her husband, who was awaiting neurosurgery.
"Plaintiff O'Neill spent her time isolated in fear for her life," the suit says.
O'Neill is seeking to represent a class consisting of all persons who were passengers aboard the March 5 voyage of the Coral Princess, excluding Carnival employees. More than 1,500 passengers departed on the cruise, according to the complaint.
The suit acknowledges that Carnival and Princess maintain a "passage contract" that contains a "waiver of class action," but O'Neill challenges the provision's validity and enforceability, saying it was not reasonably communicated to her and she did not have the opportunity to become meaningfully informed about it and reject its terms.
In addition to seeking monetary damages for class members' physical, emotional and financial injuries and their costs of ongoing medical and diagnostic treatment, the suit also asks the court to order Carnival and Princess to implement testing and other disease precautions, and to provide current and future passengers with truthful, real-time information on COVID-19 and other viral cases via an "online dashboard," as well as prompt written notification in the event of confirmed cases.
"The last thing cruise passengers should have to worry about is whether there's a deadly virus aboard their ship. Cruise lines owe it to their passengers to protect them from known hazards, and to give them updated, truthful information, which was sorely lacking on the Coral Princess cruise," O'Neill's counsel Gretchen Freeman Cappio of Keller Rohrback said in a statement.
A representative for Carnival did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
O'Neill is represented by Alison E. Chase and Gretchen Freeman Cappio of Keller Rohrback LLP.
Counsel information for Carnival and Princess was not immediately available.
The case is O'Neill v. Carnival Corp. et al., case number 2:20-cv-06218, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
--Editing by Steven Edelstone.
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