Lawyers acting on behalf of hundreds of passengers taking action over the Ruby Princess COVID-19 outbreak claim Carnival PLC and Princess Cruises’ defence documents indicate the company could maintain passengers should share some of the blame for the tragic consequences.
The move could reduce compensation to passengers, Vicky Antzoulatos, Shine Lawyers’ Class Actions’ Practice Leader, told Cruise Passenger.
Shine has filed a class action on behalf of those who were onboard the March 8, 2020, sailing of the Ruby Princess out of Sydney. The case came to court last week after Carnival and Princess sought to block Americans from joining the action.
Ms Antzoulatos said the move was a common defence run by defendants in accident cases “but surprising given the circumstances of this case”.
More than 700 passengers were diagnosed with COVID-19 after leaving the ship and 28 deaths have been linked to the cruise. An inquiry later blamed NSW Health for lapses during the disembarkation process.
Court documents filed on 12 April 2021 and posted on Shine Lawyers’ website outline a variety of defence position for Carnival and Princess, including claims the risk that passengers might contract a contagious disease like COVID-19 from a fellow passenger was “obvious” to a reasonable person.
Carnival PLC told Cruise Passenger it would be wrong to suggest it was “blaming passengers” in its defence.
Said a statement: “Any suggestion of blaming passengers for what happened is a distortion of the position we have put to the Federal Court in response to the class action and the environment that prevailed in Australia in relation to COVID-19 at the time.
“Our defence denies that Princess Cruises breached its duty of care, taking into account community experience and what was known of COVID-19 in Australia at the time. In no way could this constitute blaming passengers and we reject that assertion.”
Defence documents mention a number of issues, including participating in activities and eating at the ship’s buffet. The document suggests: “Passengers failed to take reasonable care for their own safety by eating self-service food.
It goes on: “…Passengers failed to take reasonable care for their own safety by failing to wear a mask. And “…Passengers failed to take reasonable care for their own safety by participating in activities on the ship in close proximity to other people.” The defence also states that, “…the Passengers failed to take reasonable care for their own safety by going on the voyage.”
A 9 news report on the document quoted Jennifer Philips, 71, who along with her husband caught COVID-19, as saying there was “not an inkling of COVID” when they boarded the 11-day cruise.
“If we had known then we wouldn’t have taken the trip,” she said.
The class action is set to go to mediation on 26 August and has a trial scheduled for March 2022, in case there is no resolution. According to Shine, no offer of passenger compensation has been discussed by Carnival at this stage.