Court finds Carnival negligent over COVID outbreak on cruise

An Australian court has found Carnival Cruise Line and its cruise ship operator negligent for failing to cancel a trip from Sydney that led to a major COVID-19 outbreak Wednesday.

The Ruby Princess ship left Sydney on March 8, 2020, with 2,671 passengers aboard for the 13-day cruise to New Zealand. The ship returned in 11 days because Australia was closing its borders due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus spread to 663 passengers and killed 28, The Associated Press reported.

Federal Court Justice Angus Stewart ruled that Carnival was negligent as defined by Australian consumer law by allowing the cruise to depart in the early months of the pandemic.

Susan Karpik, a passenger aboard the ship, was the lead plaintiff in the case, the AP reported.

“I have found that before the embarkation of passengers on the Ruby Princess for the cruise in question, the respondents knew or ought to have known about the heightened risk of coronavirus infection on the vessel and its potentially lethal consequences and that their procedures for screening passengers and crew members for the virus were unlikely to screen out all infectious individuals,” Stewart said.

Stewart said Carnival had already experienced COVID-19 outbreaks on its cruises. The company failed to offer an explanation as to why it gave passengers free cancelation for cruises leaving March 9, one day after the Ruby Princess departed, and why it suspended all cruises on March 13.

The judge said the cruise company proceeded regardless with the March 8 trip although they knew doing so carried a significant risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Karpik sued Carnival for more than $360,000 Australian dollars, about $230,000 US dollars. She earned AU$ 4,423, or $2,823 USD, for her out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Karpik’s lawyer said other passengers who had more serious illnesses may have larger payouts if they can prove their claim.

“The pandemic was a difficult time in Australia’s history and we understand how heartbreaking it was for those affected,” Carnival Australia said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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