Carnival Cruise Lines Held Liable for Negligence in Pioneering COVID Outbreak on Board

Carnival Cruise Lines Held Liable for Negligence in Pioneering COVID Outbreak on Board

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, an Australian court found Carnival, the British-American cruise operator, negligent in its duty of care to passengers for allowing the Ruby Princess cruise to proceed from Sydney in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a significant outbreak. Departing on March 8, 2020, with 2,671 passengers for a 13-day voyage to New Zealand, the cruise returned in 11 days as Australia closed its borders. Tragically, 663 passengers contracted COVID-19, resulting in 28 fatalities.

Passenger Susan Karpik, the lead plaintiff in the case against Carnival and its subsidiary Princess Cruises, hailed the decision. Federal Court Justice Angus Stewart ruled that Carnival's negligence, as per Australian consumer law, lay in its failure to recognize and address the heightened risk of coronavirus infection on the Ruby Princess. The judge emphasized that Carnival had a duty to exercise reasonable care for passengers' health and safety.

Justice Stewart noted that, before embarkation, Carnival knew or should have known about the elevated risk of infection on the vessel, citing previous outbreaks on Carnival cruises, including the Grand Princess off California and the Diamond Princess off Japan. He criticized Carnival for not adequately explaining its decision to offer free cancellations for cruises departing from March 9, the day after the Ruby Princess set sail, and for suspending all cruises on March 13.

Despite the ruling in favor of negligence, the financial compensation awarded to Susan Karpik was limited to her out-of-pocket medical expenses of AU$4,423.48 ($2,823.28). The judge did not accept her claim of suffering from long COVID, and Carnival had already refunded all passengers' fares. Karpik expressed satisfaction with the outcome, hoping other affected passengers shared the sentiment.

This decision holds significance as it underscores the legal responsibility of cruise operators in managing health risks during unprecedented situations and sets a precedent for similar cases worldwide.

Susan Karpik expressed hope that the court's ruling brought solace to fellow passengers who endured the ordeal, stating, “I hope the finding brings some comfort to them because they’ve all been through the mill and back.” Her lawyer, Vicky Antzoulatos, anticipated larger compensations for passengers who suffered more severe consequences due to their illness. While Susan's symptoms were relatively mild, her husband Henry Karpik faced a dire situation, spending two months in the hospital and narrowly escaping death from the infection.

“Susan’s husband was very catastrophically injured, so we expect that he will have a substantial claim, and that will be the same for a number of the passengers on the ship,” explained Antzoulatos. The lawyer emphasized that each passenger would need to substantiate their claims unless Carnival opted for a settlement.

Antzoulatos reflected on the significance of the victory, saying, “It’s been a long time coming and a very comprehensive victory for the passengers on the Ruby Princess.” The legal outcome opens the possibility for substantial compensation to those profoundly affected by the cruise's repercussions.

In response to the judgment, Carnival Australia released a statement acknowledging the challenging times during the pandemic and expressing empathy for those impacted. The statement read, “The pandemic was a difficult time in Australia’s history, and we understand how heartbreaking it was for those affected.” Carnival Australia indicated that it was carefully reviewing the judgment, leaving the door open for potential further legal developments.

In conclusion, the Australian court's ruling against Carnival Cruise Lines regarding the Ruby Princess cruise marks a significant legal victory for passengers affected by the early COVID-19 outbreak. Susan Karpik, the lead plaintiff, expressed hope that the judgment would bring comfort to fellow passengers who endured the challenging circumstances. While Karpik's compensation was limited to her medical expenses, her lawyer, Vicky Antzoulatos, anticipates larger payouts for those who suffered more severe consequences, emphasizing the potential for substantial claims, especially for passengers like Susan's husband, Henry Karpik, who faced a life-threatening situation.

Antzoulatos highlighted the comprehensive nature of the victory, emphasizing that it has been a long time coming for the passengers on the Ruby Princess. The legal outcome establishes a precedent for future cases involving cruise operators and their responsibility during health crises.

Carnival Australia, in response to the judgment, expressed understanding of the difficulties faced during the pandemic and conveyed empathy for those affected. The cruise operator stated that it is carefully considering the judgment, leaving room for potential legal developments. This landmark decision not only addresses the specific circumstances of the Ruby Princess but also raises awareness about the accountability of cruise operators in ensuring the health and safety of passengers during unprecedented events.


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