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Amid COVID-19, Suing Cruise Lines Is Not Easy

As the COVID-19 coronavirus came into the public spotlight in January of 2020, much focus was placed on cruise ships, where thousands of passengers were trapped in close quarters with each other and the highly contagious virus. An investigation by the Miami Herald found in April that at least 2,592 people had tested positive for COVID-19 during or directly after a cruise and at least 65 people had died.

As predicted, several cruise lines, including some that allegedly kept sailing despite detecting COVID 19 onboard, are being sued. Lawsuits have been filed against Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, and others, according to various publications. At least 22 lawsuits have been filed against Carnival Cruise-owned companies seeking millions of dollars in damages, Insurance Journal reports. A lawsuit in Miami seeks class-action status for employees of Celebrity Cruises who say the company did not provide proper protective gear and needlessly exposed them to the virus.

Lawsuits filed by passengers and crew accuse the companies of negligence in exposing them to the coronavirus, a National Public Radio report explains. Attorneys in some cases allege the cruise lines hid from passengers the fact that people on an earlier voyage had symptoms of COVID-19.

However, suing a cruise line in these types of cases is challenging and requires a law firm with experience and resources to handle the complexities of the case.

Is a Cruise Ship Liable If I Contract COVID-19 While Onboard?

Cruise ships are referred to as “floating cities.” They commonly have about 3,000 passengers onboard and crews that can range from several hundred to 1,500 or more. Passengers stand shoulder-to-shoulder in buffet lines and at large onboard events, and squeeze past each other in narrow below-deck corridors. No one should be surprised at the spread of a communicable disease that finds its way onto a cruise ship.

Under maritime law, a cruise line has general responsibility for its passengers’ safety. The Athens Convention of 1974 establishes a regime of liability for damage suffered by passengers of a seagoing vessel. It declares that a cruise line shall be liable for the damage suffered as a result of the death or personal injury of a passenger if the incident occurred in the course of the cruise and was due to the fault or negligence of the cruise line or a ship’s crew acting within the scope of their employment.

A cruise line is responsible for the reasonable safety of every passenger aboard the ship. If a passenger becomes seriously ill, the injured passenger has the right to seek fair compensation for the harm suffered if the illness could have been prevented by reasonable safety precautions taken by the cruise ship.

A personal injury claim based on contracting an illness onboard a cruise ship would have to demonstrate that you contracted the illness due to the cruise line’s negligence. In the case of coronavirus, lawsuits are asserting that cruise lines knew or should have known of the presence of the COVID-19 coronavirus onboard the ship and were negligent for not protecting passengers and/or adequately informing passengers of the threat to their health and safety.

Why is Suing a Cruise Line Difficult?

Among the documents you sign as you purchase a cruise and register as a passenger, there are typically several waivers that release the cruise line from liability for various problems you may encounter during your cruise. The narrative may be on the actual cruise ticket and serves as a contract. At the port you sail from, each passenger affirms that he or she is not ill and has not recently experienced symptoms of communicable diseases, such as a fever.

These disclaimers are meant to protect the cruise line from lawsuits. However, in the U.S., contracts cannot be used to dismiss claims for negligence that is willful and wanton or gross.

Another step, which is part of the “terms and conditions” you have to agree to if you are to board the cruise ship, is known as the “forum selection clause.” This is legal language that specifies where any legal complaint stemming from your experience onboard ship must be filed. Most ticket contracts limit legal actions to certain federal courts, which are predominantly in Florida or Los Angeles, no matter where the passenger of the cruise line resides. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld forum selection clauses as enforceable under the law.

A third step cruise lines take to avoid potential legal liability is to register in a country other than the United States. Adopting a “flag of convenience” is primarily to avoid U.S. labor laws and taxes. However, foreign registry can lead to a country other than the U.S. having jurisdiction over incidents that occur onboard. Otherwise, maritime or “admiralty” law, which applies to the world’s international waters and begins 24 miles from land, may apply. Maritime law is its own area of law.

Why Sue a Cruise Line for COVID-19 or any Illness or Injury?

Kraft & Associates attorney services available during COVID-19 pandemicOur personal injury attorneys at Kraft & Associates believe that a cruise line that sailed after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic knew or should have known of the potential for the coronavirus to be onboard or to be brought onboard. Not taking adequate measures to protect cruise passengers from this potentially deadly disease may amount to willful and wanton or gross negligence.

The personal injury lawyers of Kraft & Associates in Dallas, Texas, are reviewing claims for passengers of any cruise line who became ill from the COVID-19 coronavirus. Our 45-year-old firm has the experience necessary to investigate your case and the resources to file claims in the appropriate courts as required by forum selection clauses. We can pursue an individual claim on your behalf or join your case to a class action lawsuit or multi-district litigation (MDL), which may be declared against a cruise line.

Class actions and MDLs benefit from the resources of multiple law firms joining forces. Many defendants become more willing to settle once numerous suits are brought against them. Keep in mind that, despite the losses cruise lines are suffering from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, money to settle a lawsuit would come from insurance policies not affected by cruise line revenues.

If you believe you have a COVID-19 coronavirus claim against a cruise line you recently sailed with, please contact Kraft & Associates today. Most cruise terms and conditions require passengers to notify the cruise line within six months of the cruise of a potential legal claim. There is no charge for an initial consultation to discuss your legal options. That means you can talk to us about your cruise experience and illness and receive answers to your questions for free. Contact us now.


I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law, Social Security Disability, Elder Law, Medicaid Planning for Long Term Care, and VA Benefits.

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