Suit for Fear of Contracting COVID-19 Dismissed

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, litigation (both frivolous and meritous) was a foregone conclusion. The floodgates have opened, and the court dockets are now bursting with lawsuits for wrongful death, personal injury and worker’s compensation claims arising out of this global health crisis.

In the early stages of the pandemic, headlines 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 those who were infected. 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 their 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 have become ill become ill from COVID 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 Cruise Line 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 non-affected passengers’ suit does not conclude their claims entirely, as appeals are expected.

The COVID-19 Pandemic shows no signs of relenting, and pandemic-related litigation will continue to work their way through our legal system for years to come.

This article was originally published in the July 2020 issue of WorkBoat magazine.