In the second lawsuit to be filed by passengers aboard a Princess Cruise Lines cruise from San Francisco who were exposed to the coronavirus, passengers who sailed from SF to Mexico and back in mid-February are suing the company for negligence.
The passengers, more than 2,800 in all, say in the suit that the Carnival Corporation and Princess Cruise Lines negligently exposed them to the virus, which ultimately led to at least 100 infections and two passenger deaths. One of the deaths, a Placer County man who died on March 3, became the first known death from COVID-19 in California.
The Grand Princess cruise ship docked briefly in San Francisco on February 21, at which point most of those who sailed to Mexico disembarked. But the ship then set sail for Hawaii, an ill-fated and aborted trip that turned around early and was left in limbo offshore for several days in early March as the U.S. government sought to contain any potential outbreak onboard from spreading on American soil. Within about a week it became clear that community spread of the virus had already begun around the country, and the efforts to quarantine the cruise passengers may or may not have mitigated some of the early spread of the virus in California.
The passengers on the Hawaii leg of the cruise separately filed suit against Princess Cruise Lines and Carnival Corp. in early April. That lawsuit, also filed by attorney attorney Mary Alexander on behalf of a small group of passengers, may not yet have been certified as a class action, as the latest suit claims to be the first class-action suit against the company.
As KPIX reports, attorney Elizabeth Cabraser of San Francisco law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein issued a statement on behalf of the Mexico cruise passengers this week, saying, "Carnival and Princess allowed potentially infected individuals on the Mexico cruise to share confined space with other passengers, casually and callously exposing all 2,500 passengers to serious illness from COVID-19."
The suit claims that the cruise company became aware of a sick passenger on February 19, but for two days at sea they failed to inform other passengers or institute any social-distancing protocols. This all occurred after another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, had been the site of an early outbreak of COVID-19 while in Asia — an outbreak that grew to over 700 passengers and led to 14 deaths.
The complaint alleges that despite a presumptive case of COVID-19 on the Mexico cruise, the ship's employees worked to "keep the fun going" by "encouraging [guests] to mingle," rather than beginning any sort of lockdown procedures.
One plaintiff, Connie Simmons, says in the complaint that she became ill with a fever on the Mexico cruise, and waited several days for a ship's doctor to come to her cabin and then refuse to enter. Simmons' son, James Simmons, also a named plaintiff, says in a statement, "We have been loyal customers for years and never imagined that Carnival and Princess would so carelessly put our health at risk."
Passengers on the Hawaii cruise were ultimately confined to their rooms for days before being allowed to disembark in early March. They were then taken to military bases for a full 14 days of quarantine, and ultimately at least 100 were found to be positive for COVID-19. In mid-March we learned that 568 of the passengers screened at Travis Air Force Base declined to be tested because they did not want to risk extending their quarantine there. It remains unknown how many of those passengers ultimately went on to infect others when they returned home — and at the time there was not as much expert information about how common it is to remain asymptomatic while infected.