Were Dismissed Claims Against Princess Cruises Truly Trivial?
Carnival and Princess Cruises scored a major victory just recently when a federal judge in California dismissed lawsuits against the company based only on “noneconomic” damages. These lawsuits were filed under a theory of the negligent infliction of emotional distress. They were filed by passengers of the Ruby Princess and Princess Diamond after these passengers were exposed to the coronavirus. Several passengers died and several more contracted the virus but survived. All of them were stuck at sea, social distancing within their cabins, while the coronavirus was claiming lives.
Strictures related to maritime law prevent passengers from suing for damages if there are no physical injuries. This prevents lawsuits related to the intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress if the person is not in the “zone of danger” and does not demonstrate severe physical manifestations of the emotional distress. As such, all such “emotional distress” lawsuits were dismissed by the judge. Now, only individuals who became sick with the virus or families who lost loved ones aboard the vessel can recover damages for injuries sustained or wrongful death.
When dismissing the lawsuit, the judge said that if she permitted such lawsuits to go forward, it would lead to a “flood” of “trivial” lawsuits. Below, we’ll take a look at the plaintiff’s case to determine whether or not the lawsuits were, in fact, trivial.
What Did the Passengers Endure?
Ok, so you’re boarding your cruise. What you don’t know is that several passengers from the cruise before yours have come down with symptoms of an illness very similar to coronavirus. The cruise line, instead of canceling your voyage, allows you to come aboard. A few days into your cruise, the captain announces that all passengers must quarantine in their cabins to prevent the spread and passengers will not be allowed to disembark the ship. These cabins are not large, and you are likely frightened by news that passengers are falling ill with a potentially deadly virus. News is difficult to come by, and you aren’t sure what’s happening, when you’re going to be allowed to leave the vessel, and what will happen when you do. This harrowing experience could have all been avoided if the Princess Cruises simply canceled the voyage as opposed to allowing it to go forward.
Does that deserve to be compensated? In other words, should you receive compensation for that experience? In just about any other type of lawsuit filed against a defendant, you can recover damages related to the negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. So the law does not necessarily find these cases “trivial”. They are only trivial in the sense that they are barred by centuries-old maritime laws that govern personal injury lawsuits on the high seas.
On the other hand, the plaintiffs believed that they had an ace up their sleeve to get around the bar on emotional distress lawsuits. On the ticket contract, exposure to a dangerous condition or other threat is grounds to file a lawsuit. Regardless of how trivial the court thought these lawsuits were, the decision could have gone either way based on the contract that passengers are required to sign after they purchase a ticket.
Talk to a Miami Maritime Attorney Today
Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford represents both crew and passengers who have been injured aboard cruise and other vessels. Call today to schedule a free consultation.