Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, litigation (both frivolous and meritorious) was a foregone conclusion. The floodgates have opened and court dockets are now bursting with lawsuits for wrongful death, personal injury and worker’s compensation claims arising out of the coronavirus global health crisis.
In the early stages of the pandemic, headlines from around the world broadcast the plight of cruise ship passengers who were stuck in foreign ports while under quarantine. Some of those passengers were stricken with the illness, while others were captive, prohibited from disembarking out of concern that they would spread the virus due to their possible exposure to infected passengers. These events lead to a wave of claims against the cruise line industry.
However, at least one group of passengers won’t be getting their day in court. A federal court in Los Angeles dismissed a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Line by passengers who were seeking to recover monetary damages for alleged “emotional distress” caused by fear of exposure to the virus. The plaintiffs in that lawsuit had not contracted Covid-19 while aboard the Grand Princess and, therefore, could not demonstrate any harm attributable to negligence or fault on the part of the cruise operator.
These dismissed legal claims differ significantly from those by passengers and crew who became ill from Covid-19 while cruising. Those cases are still in litigation and likely will be for years. The passengers whose claims were rejected are typical of suits brought for fear of becoming ill, as the mere worry of contracting a disease is not a viable cause of action in most jurisdictions, including under maritime law. The Carnival case is consistent with the basic legal premise that a party must suffer actual harm or damages before the right to legal recourse is granted. Nonetheless, the dismissal of the lawsuit does not conclude their claims entirely, as appeals are expected.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating, and pandemic-related litigation will continue to work their way through our legal system for years to come.