Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: The Current Status in COVID-19 Maritime Litigation

Bill Schwartz - 

The Current Status in COVID-19 Maritime Litigation

A Texas woman filed a lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines alleging negligence in the death of her husband, who she says contracted and died from COVID-19 while on a cruise aboard the Grand Princess to celebrate the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, seeks in excess of $1 million in damages for the death of the passenger on March 20. It accuses the cruise line of knowingly exposing the couple to the novel Coronavirus, failing to disclose the danger in a timely manner and “for preventing her husband from leaving the ship while his health deteriorated, leading him to ultimately die alone days later in a California hospital.” This lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines claims that the cruise line allowed over 60 passengers exposed to the Coronavirus to remain on board the Grand Princess without warning the passengers about the risks or informing them about what was occurring. The lawsuit also claims that Princess Cruise Lines didn’t quarantine passengers for two weeks after discovering the Coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship—a delay that led to additional infections and deaths.

Another case, a class action filed in the Southern District of Florida against Celebrity Cruises, Inc., alleges that Celebrity Cruises failed to protect crewmembers from COVID-19. The claim alleges that the company did not provide masks or gloves to crewmembers, nor did it enforce social distancing “despite Celebrity having prior notice pertaining to the dangerous conditions and/or explosive contagiousness associated with COVID-19 aboard its vessels from previous passengers, crewmembers and/or other invitees.”

The claim against Celebrity Cruises, on behalf of cruise line employees, focuses on Celebrity Cruises’ alleged failure to “follow even the most basic safety precautions” regarding Coronavirus transmission, such as supplying masks to staff, quarantining those who showed symptoms, or requiring crewmembers to practice social distancing.

Now, in federal court in New Orleans, the family of a deceased crewmember having Jones Act seaman status has filed a suit. In their suit, they allege the deckhand was a crewmember aboard a supply vessel in March and April 2020. During that time, the vessel’s captain reportedly was dispatched to New Orleans to perform services on behalf of the company and following his return to the vessel in Mobile, he reportedly fell ill. Although somewhat unclear, it appears that the vessel captain sequestered himself in his quarters for two to three days until the company was told of his illness. The company then removed the captain from the vessel for testing, which revealed that he had COVID-19. The deckhand reportedly returned home when the captain was removed from the vessel. It is claimed he then isolated from contact with others except for his wife when he too fell ill. He reportedly succumbed to the virus despite medical treatment. The lawsuit alleges that the company negligently caused the deckhand’s death for:

Thoughts for Companies to Consider

These lawsuits highlight the issues that confront companies for claims for the contraction of a virus such as COVID-19. With the close working quarters and the work environment in which seaman work and live, they are exposed to illnesses and diseases. Many of the same considerations exist for passengers. The issue of causation is prominent for a seaman or passenger alleging the negligent exposure to the novel Coronavirus or other diseases. It must be shown by the person bringing suit to prove how, where and when they contracted the disease. COVID-19 is a pandemic which could potentially make proof of causation difficult. But, if a passenger or crewmember who are exclusively aboard a ship or vessel, the proof may be easier.

As a result, a company’s reaction to the virus and protection, isolation and proactive efforts to reduce exposure will all be issues to be fleshed out in discovery. Our recommendation is to act now if you have not already done so.

Here are a number of sites to go to for information on how to respond:


If you have any questions regarding this maritime matter, please contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or wschwartz@bhbmlaw.com.


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