Court Holds Carnival Responsible for COVID-19 Outbreak

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The court ruled that Carnival Corporation misled guests about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic aboard a Princess Cruises ship.

An Australian federal court set history when it held the world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Corporation, responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the Ruby Princess in March 2020.

Retired nurse Susan Karpik, who was on the Ruby Princess with her husband, filed the action that resulted in the verdict. The cruise, which left port as the pandemic gained momentum throughout the world, was eventually linked to a surge of 900 cases of COVID and 28 unfortunate deaths aboard Ruby Princess.

Mr Karpik was the most hit by the virus; he was hospitalised for two months and spent that time in an induced coma, fighting for his life.

Despite being a fraction of the A$360,000 initially requested, the court granted Ms Karpik 4,423.48 Australian dollars with interest for her medical expenses.

While the ruling is a consolation for the Karpiks, it might open the door to claims from hundreds or thousands of other passengers on the same or similar journeys where COVID outbreaks occurred.

A key deciding factor in the verdict will be the timing of the incidents aboard the Ruby Princess, which happened when cruise companies worldwide suspended operations.

A previous voyage on the Ruby Princess had to be shortened on 8 March 2020 due to an influenza-like sickness; thus, Judge Agnus Stewart ruled that Carnival knew or should have known about the risk posed by the virus.

The judge ruled that the cruise should have been cancelled because any reasonable person would have known that the discovery of earlier instances on the previous journeys only increased the probability of the virus being carried over to the next voyage.

Carnival, for its part, is going through the decision in order to formulate a response since it might pave the way for hundreds of Australians who were on the same cruise to file claims. If the Australian High Court agrees to include 700 American tourists in the class action complaint, the stakes might skyrocket.

Since filing cases, primarily class actions, is notoriously tricky in the cruise industry, this verdict is being referred to as the first substantial class action triumph against a cruise operator globally.

Upon hearing the news of the verdict, executives at Carnival Corporation and other large operators, including Royal Caribbean Group, MSC Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, must have been taken by surprise. Lawyers in the cruise industry are undoubtedly rushing to get ahead of what could be a drawn-out legal struggle.

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