Princess Cruises Ship Passenger Drops COVID-19 Suit

By Joyce Hanson
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Law360 (June 16, 2021, 5:27 PM EDT) -- A passenger aboard a Princess Cruises ship has dropped her proposed class action in California federal court against the cruise line and parent company Carnival over a COVID-19 outbreak on a voyage that left at least two dead and guests trapped in their cabins.

Lead plaintiff Kathleen O'Neill, a North Carolina resident who claimed she tested positive for COVID-19 just after returning home from her cruise aboard the Coral Princess vessel, on Tuesday dismissed her action against Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. and parent company Carnival Corp. in its entirety.

O'Neill's single-page notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice gave no explanation for why the suit was dropped. Representatives for O'Neill and the cruise lines did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

However, court filings show that on Oct. 2, Carnival and Princess filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that the court should dismiss or strike class allegations based on a class waiver in O'Neill's passage contract.

And on Oct. 26, the cruise lines filed a notice in support of their dismiss motion, focusing on an Oct. 20 ruling in the same district in Archer v. Carnival Corp. & plc , which held that the same passage contract at issue in O'Neill's case barred class certification.

The parties in the O'Neill suit filed a stipulation to stay the case on Nov. 5 while Archer was appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court on Feb. 17 denied the Archer plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal.

According to a final joint status report filed on May 17, O'Neill and Carnival said they were close to finalizing their agreement to resolve O'Neill's claims against the cruise companies, which was followed by Tuesday's voluntary dismissal.

North Carolina resident O'Neill hit Princess and Carnival with her proposed class action on July 13, after the coronavirus outbreak on her March 2020 cruise left at least two dead and passengers trapped in their cabins for days.

Her 42-page complaint accused Carnival and Princess of negligence and inflicting emotional distress on passengers for allowing the Coral Princess vessel to set sail from Chile on March 5, 2020, after outbreaks of the virus on two sister ships in the early days of the global pandemic.

In addition to recounting her and her husband's nightmarish voyage aboard the Coral Princess, O'Neill's complaint also detailed outbreaks on the 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.

On the Grand Princess, 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, yet Carnival and Princess still sent the ship off on its next scheduled trip to Hawaii without taking extra precautions and with some passengers from the Mexico trip still on board, O'Neill's complaint said. A reported outbreak prompted California to temporarily deny the Grand Princess 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 O'Neill's complaint.

In total, Carnival's ships have recorded more than 1,500 positive infections and at least 39 deaths from COVID-19, according to O'Neill's complaint.

The Coral Princess was allowed to leave Valparaiso, Chile, on March 5, 2020, despite the recent outbreaks, O'Neill said. She alleged that 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 to return to their cabins, informing them that "an unusually high number of people" were experiencing flu-like symptoms.

The passengers remained confined to their cabins thereafter. Five days later, an announcement said that more people had reported to the sick bay and that two passengers had died, according to the complaint.

O'Neill is represented by Alison E. Chase, Gretchen F. Cappio and Garrett A. Heilman of Keller Rohrback LLP.

Carnival is represented by Jonathan W. Hughes, Christopher M. Odell, Angel Tang Nakamura, Andrew Johnson and David J. Weiner of Arnold & Porter.

Princess is represented by Jeffrey B. Maltzman of Maltzman & Partners PA.

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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