Son Of COVID-19 Victim Quietly Drops Princess Cruise Suit

By Joyce Hanson
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Law360 (August 7, 2020, 4:36 PM EDT) -- The son of a 74-year-old man who died of COVID-19 following a trip on a Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. vessel has quietly dropped his wrongful death claims in California federal court, a few weeks before a hearing set to rule on the company's motion to dismiss.

Christopher Weidner, who claims to be the "personal representative of the decedent," Carl Weidner, filed a two-page notice of voluntary dismissal on Thursday dropping his suit against Princess and its parent company, Carnival Corp. His lawyer told Law360 on Friday, however, that the family's claims will be revived.

Counsel for Princess on July 10 filed a notice of its motion to dismiss the suit ahead of the court hearing scheduled for Aug. 31, saying Christopher Weidner alleges in his complaint that he's the decedent's "surviving adult biological son," which is not sufficient to establish his standing to bring a Death on the High Seas Act claim on behalf of Carl Weidner's estate.

"Plaintiffs have not pled sufficient facts to establish that Christopher Weidner has been appointed the personal representative of the estate of Carl Weidner," Princess said in a proposed order accompanying its motion to dismiss. "DOHSA provides that only 'the personal representative of the decedent may bring a civil action in admiralty against the person or vessel responsible.'"

Further, the company argued, the son alleges that his father contracted the virus while the Grand Princess vessel was on the high seas and more than three miles away from shore. As a result, Princess said, only DOHSA applies to the estate's negligence claims and preempts all of the suit's California state law death claims.

But a lawyer for Christopher Weidner, Mary E. Alexander of Mary Alexander & Associates PC, told Law360 on Friday that the Weidner family isn't dropping their wrongful death suit entirely.

"This is a great and viable claim involving the death of a passenger who contracted COVID on the Princess cruise," Alexander wrote in an email. "The issue was who is the proper party to bring the action. The claim is still being pursued by the family."

Representatives for Princess did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

The wrongful death complaint filed May 4 alleged that Princess and Carnival failed to properly address an on-board outbreak, despite having knowledge of passengers with COVID-19 symptoms as early as Feb. 19. Princess Cruise Lines waited two weeks to notify passengers and didn't enact sanitary precautions until March 3, according to the complaint that says Carl Weidner died March 26.

"Defendants knew or should have known that by failing to proactively warn passengers — including decedent — and by failing to take actions to limit opportunities for viral spread, they risked serious personal injury and/or death to their passengers," he said. "Nevertheless, defendants consciously disregarded the known high probability of injury and/or death and chose to instead pursue profits rather than protect the public and their customers."

According to the suit, the companies learned of a potential outbreak on the Grand Princess' round-trip cruise from San Francisco to Mexico in mid-February but completed that voyage uninterrupted. On Feb. 21, the ship returned to port in San Francisco, unloading and then reloading with passengers for its next cruise to Hawaii, according to the suit.

More than 1,000 crewmembers and about 62 passengers — including at least two who were sick — stayed onboard for the Hawaii voyage, the complaint alleges. Carl Weidner, of Pennsylvania, was among the new passengers who boarded the Grand Princess to Hawaii, the complaint alleges.

On Feb. 25, the companies emailed passengers who had been on the San Francisco to Mexico voyage to let them know that they might have been exposed to the virus but they did not notify any of the passengers that were, at that same time, in the middle of their Hawaii cruise, the complaint alleges.

It wasn't until March 4 that the Grand Princess began a cabin-based quarantine, but it only canceled large public gatherings, and continued hosting other events on the schedule, the suit alleges.

Because California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and concern arose about the outbreak aboard the Grand Princess, the ship was not allowed to reenter the San Francisco port and stayed anchored off the coast for five days before the Coast Guard escorted it into port, the complaint alleges.

On March 11, after Carl Weidner was transferred with other passengers to Travis Air Force Base, he started experiencing symptoms, was placed on a respirator and tested for the virus, and was then moved to a hospital, the complaint alleges.

Carl Weidner's test came back positive and on March 16 he was placed on a ventilator, where he remained for 10 days before being put into a medically induced coma, the suit alleges. He died alone as a result of the virus on March 26, according to the suit.

Christopher Weidner is represented by Mary E. Alexander and Brendan D.S. Way of Mary Alexander & Associates PC and Elizabeth J. Cabraser and Jonathan D. Selbin of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP.

Princess is represented by Jeffrey B. Maltzman, Edgar R. Nield, Gabrielle De Santis Nield and Rafaela P. Castells of Maltzman & Partners PA.

The case is Christopher Weidner et al. v. Carnival Corporation et al., case number 2:20-cv-04074, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Additional reporting by Dave Simpson. Editing by Kelly Duncan.

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