Carnival, Princess Hit With COVID-19 Wrongful Death Suit

By Dave Simpson
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Law360 (May 4, 2020, 10:14 PM EDT) -- The family of a 74-year-old man who died of COVID-19 following a cruise hit Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. with a wrongful death suit in California federal court Monday, alleging the companies failed to properly address an on-board outbreak.

Despite having knowledge of passengers with COVID-19 symptoms as early as Feb. 19, the cruiseliner waited two weeks to notify passengers and didn't enact sanitary precautions until March 3, according to the complaint from Christopher Weidner, whose father, Carl Weidner died on 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 a round-trip cruise from San Francisco to Mexico in mid-February but completed that voyage uninterrupted. On Feb. 21, that ship, the Grand Princess 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, the complaint alleges. But it only canceled large public gatherings, and continued hosting other events on the schedule, called the "Princess Patter," including Formal Night and its associated dinner, the suit alleges.

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

On March 9, when Weidner was let off the ship with other passengers and transferred to Travis Air Force Base, he did not have a fever, according to the complaint.

"The bus ride to Travis Air Force Base took approximately three hours and thirty minutes, during which the recently disembarked passengers were held in close proximity to one another," the complaint alleges.

On March 11, he started experiencing symptoms, was placed on a respirator, was tested for the virus, and was transferred to the hospital, while his girlfriend, who'd also taken the voyage, remained at the base, the complaint alleges.

On March 13, Weidner's test came back positive and on March 16 he was placed on a ventilator, the complaint alleges. He remained on the ventilator for 10 days and was then put into a medically-induced coma, the suit alleges. On March 26, as a result of the virus, Weidner died alone, according to the suit.

"His death was the direct and proximate result of his exposure to the virus on the ship due to Defendants' failure to take any effective measures to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 onboard the Grand Princess," the suit alleges.

The suit hits the companies with common law negligence and gross negligence claims as well as a negligence claim under the Death on the High Seas Act. It seeks unspecified damages.

"What makes Carl's death even more tragic is that this was entirely preventable because Princess failed at every turn to inform passengers, properly clean its boat or take proper safety precautions," the family's attorney Mary Alexander said in a release.

Representatives for the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

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

Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately known Monday.

The case is 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.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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