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Cruising to COVID-19: Negligence Cases Against Cruise Liners for Virus Infections

In 2019, after hundreds of passengers and crewmembers on a cruise ship were sickened with norovirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that cruise liners based in the United States had reported at least 118 virus outbreaks on cruise ships over the past decade, according to NBC News.

"When you have 8,000 [people] on the ship, one person gets sick and you are in a confined environment. It's going to explode, there's going to be an explosion," a nautical attorney named Michael Winkleman told NBC News. Winkleman called for greater oversite over cruise ship cleaning and disinfectant policies.

It may have come as little surprise, given the industry's history with other virus outbreaks on cruise ships, that outbreaks of COVID-19 left hundreds of cruise line passengers sickened and at least ten (10) dead on liners around the world, in early 2020.

The Holland America ship Zaandam, which planned to dock at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in late March after being denied permission to disembark passengers by several countries, became only the latest cruise liner-with 200 suspected COVID-19 infections and four dead passengers-to seek refuge at an American port, according to NPR.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic metastasized in early 2020, cruise ships kept sailing, with some leaving port as late as mid-March, according to CNBC. Some cruise ship passengers told the Miami Herald in that in early March, hundreds of passengers disembarked from a cruise ship on which a passenger had tested positive for COVID-19, without any screening. Thousands of additional passengers then boarded the same ship.

How COVID-19 Spreads on Cruise Ships

According to Contagion Live, COVID-19 likely spread on cruise ships in the following ways:

  • Crew members handling food items such as plates and utensils became infected when they handled items that an infected person used;
  • Droplets expelled when an infected person coughed or sneezed landed on items in common areas, which uninfected persons then touched;
  • Surfaces throughout a cruise ship contained droplets left by an infected person, which were transferred to others when they touched the surfaces;
  • Passengers and crewmembers in close proximity to an infected passenger or crewmember became directly exposed to the virus by the infected passenger or crewmember.
Duty of Cruise Liners To Protect Passengers From COVID-19 Infections

Cruise lines are under a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure safe travel and vacation experiences for their passengers. It is clear from the long experience cruise lines have had with norovirus outbreaks that cruise liners knew of the special risk cruise ships posed to passengers and others in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Cruise liners were still setting sail, however, long after the COVID-19 surfaced. Exposure to COVID-19 resulted in the deaths of at least ten (10) cruise ship passengers. Other infected persons faced weeks or months of intensive medical treatment. The virus, treatment for the symptoms, and recovery could result in permanent injury, extensive out-of-pocket medical costs, and extensive pain and physical and emotional suffering.

If a person has been exposed to COVID-19 as a result of the negligence of a cruise ship, the person may be entitled to damages for out-of-pocket medical costs, pain and suffering, and any permanent damage or loss of function caused by the infection.

Personal Injury Lawyers can Help Infected Cruise Passengers and Crewmembers

In order to reasonably protect persons from exposure to the highly infectious and deadly COVID-19 virus, cruise ships could have taken the following steps:

  • Screening passengers for virus symptoms and isolating or refusing to board those with symptoms;
  • Identifying any persons who may have traveled to virus hotspots;
  • Inquiring into contacts between passengers with persons who may have been infected;
  • Testing all crewmembers for the virus;
  • Screening crewmembers for symptoms and inquiring into their travels and contacts with potentially infected persons;
  • Requiring all crewmembers and passengers to wear protective clothing and masks;
  • Enacting social distancing measures among passengers and crewmembers to lower the risk of transmission between persons;
  • Enacting disinfection measures to ensure that surfaces on ships remained virus free.

If cruise liner failed to take reasonable steps to protect passengers or crewmembers from exposure to COVID-19, a person injured by the cruise liner's negligence may be entitled to compensation. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist passengers and crewmembers injured by COVID-19 infection.

Contact Our Personal Injury Attorneys Today To Schedule A Free Consultation

The best thing a passenger or crewmember injured by exposure to COVID-19 can do is contact an experienced, local personal injury attorney. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist injured passengers or crewmembers in identifying the exposure event and those responsible, and in preparing and filing claims against at-fault persons or businesses.

With offices in Charlotte, Monroe, and Mooresville, Arnold & Smith, PLLC handles personal injury cases across the entire State of North Carolina. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to set up a free initial consultation.

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