First class action brought on behalf of MS Zaandam cruise ship passengers is latest in a series of similar negligence and breach of contract lawsuits filed by Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel relating to Coronavirus-related infection and deaths
The law firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC and Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC have filed a federal class action injury lawsuit against Holland America and Carnival Corporation on behalf of cruise ship passengers who traveled on the MS Zaandam in March 2020 and were negligently exposed to Covid-19. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“This cruise was a life-threatening nightmare,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Kenny Byrd, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Despite knowing of the risk and dangers of Covid-19 exposure on its ships, Holland America and Carnival put no meaningful screening or preventative measures in place on the cruises prior to departure and negligently continued to encourage guests to gather and mingle even as the virus spread through the passengers and crew.”
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global health emergency. As noted in the complaint, in or before early February 2020, Holland America and Carnival became aware of an outbreak of Covid-19 aboard the cruise ship the Diamond Princess, which is operated by Carnival and its subsidiary Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd. Ten cases were originally diagnosed, and that number rapidly escalated to over 700 cases — over one-fifth of the passengers onboard. Cruises run by Carnival have been identified as responsible for more than 1,500 positive Covid-19 infections, and almost 40 deaths. Carnival, which wholly owns Holland America Line, also had outbreaks aboard its ships the Ruby Princess and the Grand Princess, which was prevented from docking in San Francisco in early March.
The complaint details that plaintiffs and the class boarded the MS Zaandam in Buenos Aires on March 7, 2020, after Carnival and Holland knew about the spread of Covid-19 onboard other ships. Passengers on the MS Zaandam had traveled from all over the world to meet the ship in Buenos Aires, and some of these passengers traveled from regions of the world — like Europe — that were experiencing high rates of coronavirus infection. Holland America assured Plaintiffs that they were instituting additional screening and on-board health protocols. But as the complaint outlines, when plaintiffs boarded the ship they were not subject to any additional preventative measures, or implement any other reasonable precautions at this stage of the cruise. As plaintiffs understand the facts, Holland America and Carnival did not take any measures different from their typical preparations for a voyage, and made no Covid-19-specific efforts to prevent or contain contagion at the time of initial embarkation.
“After ports in Chile and Argentina refused to allow the ship to dock, plaintiffs were forced to remain onboard the ship, with crew members and other passengers reporting Covid-19 symptoms,” notes Tousley Brain partner Jason Dennett, who co-represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Holland and Carnival had no plan, and provided passengers with no information, about when or where the ship would dock and Plaintiffs would be allowed to disembark.”
The lawsuit states claims for negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks compensatory damages as well as medical monitoring and injunctive relief.
In the days following Holland America’s notice to passengers about the itinerary cancellation, the MS Zaandam continued its voyage, but with no set destination. During this time, Holland America and Carnival became aware that multiple crew members and passengers were exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19. But rather than instituting protective measures at that time, Holland America and Carnival scheduled additional group activities, like trivia nights and dance parties, to entertain passengers while they were stuck at sea.
Holland America and Carnival only began to take any action to address potential Covid-19 exposure among passengers and crew approximately one week after the ship was denied entry to South American ports. Beginning on or around March 22, 2020, guests were asked to isolate themselves in their staterooms, with meals and laundry handled and delivered by crew members. Prior to that date, Holland America and Carnival provided passengers on the ship with no fore-warning that passengers and crew members were experiencing flu-like symptoms, although Holland America and Carnival were aware of the growing population of ill passengers for many days.
On or about March 27, 2020, while still onboard the MS Zaandam, Plaintiff Carl Zehner of Davidson County, Tennessee, began experiencing symptoms resembling Covid-19. A subsequent Covid-19 test showed that he was positive for the virus, and Zehner was re-located to a different area of the ship. After finally arriving on April 1st in Port Everglades, Florida, some passengers disembarked, where they were taken, when possible, to hospitals or provided with means of traveling to their homes, where they then remained in self-quarantine. Plaintiff Zehner and plaintiff Leonard Lindsay, who are married, both remained on the MS Zaandam, because no local hospital would accept Zehner, whose condition had worsened.
On April 5, 2020, an Orlando hospital agreed to accept Zehner as a patient and he was transported by helicopter to Advent Health Orlando Hospital where he was placed on a ventilator shortly after arriving. He remained on the ventilator for approximately three weeks, then was transported to Select Specialty Longterm Acute Care Hospital in South Orlando, and on June 2, 2020, he was transported to Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. As of this filing, Plaintiff Zehner has been released to his home, but has not yet made a full recovery. Plaintiff Lindsay was forced to remain onboard the ship until April 9, 2020. He was not tested for the virus at any time while onboard. After disembarking, he returned to Nashville after Zehner was taken to the hospital, and, at that point, began a new period of quarantine.
The complaint notes that at the time of this filing, Carnival has suspended its cruise services for the time being, but that Carnival’s website indicates that it intends to begin operating certain cruise ships as early as September 1, 2020, potentially posing grave threats to their passengers, crew members, and the public health.
Elizabeth J. Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
275 Battery Street, Suite 2900
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC
1700 Seventh Avenue, Ste 2200
Seattle, WA 98101
David W. Garrison
Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC
414 Union Street, Suite 900
Nashville, TN 37219