Passengers Slam Celebrity's Bid To Duck COVID-19 Class Suit

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (September 16, 2020, 8:19 PM EDT) -- A New York couple who say they caught COVID-19 on board a Celebrity Cruises Inc. ship in March slammed the company's attempt to toss their proposed class action, arguing Tuesday they had provided enough facts to bolster their claims that Celebrity knowingly put passengers' lives at risk with buffets, dances and other packed events.

Fred and Marlene Kantrow say they contracted COVID-19 in March aboard the Celebrity Eclipse after the cruise line concealed the truth about the health of guests on board and continued to hold events, including an elbow-to-elbow salute to health care workers battling the disease.

The evidence they provided with their suit, which included photographs of the activities, should be enough to support their tort claims against Celebrity at this stage, the Kantrows said.

"The conduct of cruise lines, like Celebrity here, in deliberately concealing a deadly infectious disease outbreak aboard a cruise ship — especially during a 30-day voyage — is outrageous, atrocious and should not be tolerated in a civilized society," they said.

In its motion to dismiss, Celebrity said the Kantrows had failed to demonstrate they suffered an injury because it was not clear if they had contracted COVID-19 themselves or were complaining about merely being exposed to the coronavirus on board.

But in their response, the Kantrows said they exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, pneumonia, severe cough, respiratory distress, chills, nightmares, loss of taste and smell, and gastrointestinal problems.

"Plaintiffs' allegations that they 'contracted COVID-19,' coupled with allegations concerning the manifestations and symptoms of that virus, provide sufficient factual support that plaintiffs plausibly suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of defendant's tortious conduct," the Kantrows said.

The couple claim in their suit, filed in May, that among the roughly 2,500 passengers and 750 crew members they sailed with in March aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, at least 45 individuals tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least two died.

They boarded the ship on March 1, expecting to spend two weeks sailing from Argentina to Chile before heading home.

But Chilean officials refused to allow non-Chilean passengers to disembark at their would-be final destination, the couple said. The passengers ultimately remained aboard the Eclipse until March 30, when it reached San Diego. By the time they set foot on solid ground stateside, the novel coronavirus had been identified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

The Kantrows say that as early as March 2, the day after the cruise commenced, someone on board began displaying "symptoms consistent with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis."

Despite signs that someone might be infected on board, the Kantrows said, nothing changed on the ship. Diners ate from buffets, dancing and other social programming went on as originally planned, and the crew held a packed salute to health care workers fighting the disease.

The Kantrows say the company told the passengers as late as March 28 that "all guests onboard remain healthy and happy."

They claim that Celebrity knew or should have known weeks before they set sail that such a voyage would be ill-advised in light of rapidly changing guidance on managing the "explosive contagiousness" of the virus.

An attorney for Celebrity did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The cruise-goers are represented by Jason R. Margulies, Michael A. Winkleman, Jacqueline Garcell and L. Alex Perez of Lipcon Margulies Alsina & Winkleman PA.

Celebrity is represented by Scott D. Ponce, Alex M. Gonzalez and Sanford L. Bohrer of Holland & Knight LLP, and Jerry D. Hamilton, Evan S. Gutwein and Annalisa Gutierrez of Hamilton Miller & Birthisel LLP.

The case is Kantrow et al. v. Celebrity Cruises Inc., case number 1:20-cv-21997, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

--Additional reporting by Emilie Ruscoe. Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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