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California court ruled that passengers quarantined on a cruise ship after an outbreak of COVID-19 could not recover for fear of contracting the virus while confined on the ship.

July 21
2020

California court ruled that passengers quarantined on a cruise ship after an outbreak of COVID-19 could not recover for fear of contracting the virus while confined on the ship;Weissberger v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., No. 2:20-cv-2267 c/w Nos. 2:20-cv-2328, 2:20-cv-2361, 2:20-cv-2414, 2:20-cv-2430, 2:20-cv-2531, 2:20-cv-2727, 2:20-cv-2753, 2:20-cv-2860, 2:20-cv-2865, 2:20-cv-3314, 2:20-cv-3868, 2:20-cv-2267, 2:20-cv-3960, 2:20-cv-4250, 2:20-cv-4663 (C.D. Cal. July 14, 2020).

COVID-19 struck the cruise ship GRAND PRINCESS during a cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii in February 2020. The same day that the ship docked in Oakland, Ronald and Eva Weissberger, who were quarantined on the ship, brought this suit against Princess Cruises based on negligence and gross negligence. They did not test positive for the virus, but they sought to recover emotional distress based on fear of contracting the virus while they were confined on the ship. Other passengers on the cruise who suffered emotion distress from fear of contracting the virus also brought suit, and their cases were consolidated. Construing the claims as being premised on negligent infliction of emotional distress, Judge Klausner noted that the Supreme Court allowed recovery for two types of injuries, plaintiffs who have sustained a physical impact from the defendant’s negligent conduct, and plaintiffs who were placed in an immediate risk of physical harm by that conduct. The passengers did not seek to recover for a physical impact and based their claims on the claim that they had been placed in an immediate risk of physical harm. They contended that, although they had not contracted the disease, they only needed to show that they experienced a “near miss.” Judge Klausner diagreed and held that the passengers could not recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress based solely on their proximity to individuals with COVID-19 and their resulting fear of contracting the virus. Noting the millions of confirmed cases of the virus, Judge Klausner reasoned that the rule proposed by the passengers “would lead to a flood of trivial suits, and open the door to unlimited and unpredictable liability.” This was at odds with the Supreme Court’s holding that case-by-case adjudications of negligence “are not an adequate guard against unlimited and unpredictable liability.” Holding that it would be futile to allow an amendment to the pleadings, Judge Klausner dismissed the cases with prejudice.

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