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Can Coronavirus Victims Sue the Princess Cruise Line?

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As of Thursday, March 5, 2020, the novel coronavirus has killed more than 3,300 people, with the vast majority in mainland China. There are now more than 95,000 global cases, with infections in more than 80 countries and territories. In the US, over 200 cases of coronavirus across 17 states have been reported, and the virus, also known as COVID-19, has already taken the lives of 12 Americans.

While most of the deceased passed away at a nursing home in the Seattle area, 45 of the U.S. cases involved passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where the Japanese government’s quarantine procedures have raised questions.

Coronavirus testing is now also underway on another Princess cruise ship, the Grand Princess, currently stranded off the coast of California. Nearly 100 passengers have been identified as needing to be tested, including guests and staff, and the CDC has forced the closure of the casino and all group activities on the ship. Furthermore, guests are being told to stay at least six feet away from one another at all times.

With cruise ships being such an integral cause for the spread of coronavirus, many are wondering if passengers who have now become victims have a personal injury lawsuit against cruise lines. The answer to this question is, understandably, very complex.

The first thing to look at is whether the cruise ship took “all reasonable measures” to prevent exposure to the virus, something that’s not fully been done yet, and probably won’t be complete for a while as this is still an active situation. It is also unclear, unless a person has passed away or endured any life-changing injuries, as to whether the passengers on board the cruise ship truly suffered anything in the eyes of the law. Of course, there is always strength in numbers, however the ticket contract that passengers are obliged to sign before boarding Princess ships expressly waives class actions lawsuits.

Therefore, it comes back to the question of whether the cruise lines did or did not take all reasonable measures. For example, the Japanese government ordered the quarantine of The Diamond Princess, using their inherent power to prevent entry into their country from any outside vessel that may carry a disease. But we don’t know to what degree the cruise line did everything it could to work with the Japanese government to enforce the quarantine while also evacuating the healthy people off the ship. Healthy people may have then been exposed to those who had coronavirus, themselves becoming infected. That may be the only cause for action.

Time will tell, but at this point cruise lines have much bigger issues to worry about, as the entire cruise industry is suffering across the board. This will be an interesting story to follow, and could set precedent for the travel industry as a whole moving forward.

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