Lawsuits against cruise liners by passengers who claim they contracted COVID-19 while on the ship continue to pop up in courts’ dockets across the nation. Getting these cases to move forward is proving to be an issue for plaintiffs. Two federal judges recently dismissed cases filed by cruise line passengers who blamed Princess Cruise Lines for their COVID-19 illnesses. The rulings, which were issued in August, were among the first in the United States to address the issue of injuries and causation specific to coronavirus, according to a Law.com report.
Causation is a critical element in every personal injury claim. It is not enough simply for an injured party to assert harm. Instead, he or she must prove that the defendant caused the injury. A plaintiff must show that but for the defendant’s actions or failure to act the injury would not have happened (known as “cause in fact”), and the injury could have been reasonably foreseen from that action or failure to act (known as “proximate cause”).
These recent rulings illustrate the difficulties involved with proving causation when it comes to COVID-19. Indeed, if individuals who were confined to a cruise ship for several weeks cannot successfully demonstrate causation to the court regarding COVID-19 infection, this will be even more difficult for those plaintiffs who attempt to sue other businesses for contracting the virus.
The United States District Judge of the Central District of California, the Honorable Dean Pregerson, dismissed a case on August 17th brought by a Canadian couple that was diagnosed with COVID-19 after taking a trip on Princess Cruise Lines departing from San Francisco, California. In a transcript of a telephone hearing on the matter, Judge Pregerson noted that plaintiffs who have minimal symptoms of COVID-19 may not be able to show they have been injured. During the hearing, the Judge also inquired as to why the plaintiffs believed they contracted the virus from the cruise ship. Notably, the judge pointed out that simply because the illness was caught does not automatically mean negligence occurred.
Less than a week later, on August 21st, Judge Dale Fischer, also a United States District Judge of the Central District of California, dismissed four similar cases. The lawsuits were filed by passengers who alleged that they contracted COVID-19 on a cruise ship departing from Australia. Judge Fischer noted that the plaintiffs failed to establish that negligence was the cause of their illness. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiffs’ failure to allege the amount of time between their exposure and the date they began experiencing symptoms or received a positive test result. Judge Fischer pointed out this was a key fact critical to establishing that the causation allegations were not merely possible, but plausible.
Both Judge Pregerson and Fischer allowed the plaintiffs in the lawsuits to amend their complaints, some of which have already done so. Not surprisingly, more COVID-19-related cruise line cases are pending and at least three of these are class action lawsuits.
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