Woman sues Princess Cruises as elderly parents quarantined aboard ship

4 more possible coronavirus cases as Ga. set to quarantine cruise passengers

When Eva and Ron Weissberger boarded the Grand Princess for a cruise to Hawaii two weeks ago, they had no idea someone infected with coronavirus had just disembarked.

“Had they told my parents and everybody else on the ship they would have disembarked the next day. Instead, they didn’t know a damn thing,” said their daughter, Debi Chalik of Plantation, Fla.-based law firm Chalik and Chalik.

So the elderly couple cruised on, until their morning bridge game was broken up March 5 with an announcement from the captain that they were quarantined to their rooms until further notice. A letter slipped under their door later that day revealed the reason: coronavirus. As of Friday, 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for the virus.

Suit claims negligence

Chalik, along with California co-counsel Michael Simmrin of Simmrin Law Group, filed a lawsuit against Princess Cruises, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, accusing the company of negligence in allowing her parents and thousands of other cruisers and crew to be exposed to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

The suit is reportedly seeking $1 million.

She said the company knew about the exposure Feb. 20, when a passenger on the previous cruise to Mexico sought onboard medical care. That passenger disembarked the following day, the same day her parents boarded the ship for their Hawaiian cruise.

“Instead of canceling that voyage, they let everybody on,” she said. “I think this is criminal negligence, frankly.”

Princess Cruises did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Former passenger died

Days later, after that same sick passenger became California’s first COVID-19 fatality, Princess emailed the man’s fellow cruise passengers to warn them of their potential exposure to the virus. They did not warn the current cruisers, Chalik said.

Sixty-two passengers from the Mexico cruise stayed on for the next one. They were confined to their cabins a day ahead of the general cruise population. After the lockdown, health officials swabbed 46 people on the ship and flew the tests back to a state lab.

Besides the 21 infected people quarantined on the Grand Princess, another former passenger died back in California, and nearly a dozen of the state’s coronavirus cases have been linked to the ship, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Couple feeling no symptoms

The Weissbergers, who live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were not among those tested for the virus, and Chalik said they are feeling fine and symptom-free. They’re trapped inside their room, with meals delivered on trays left outside the cabin door. Ron Weissberger, 74, has a heart condition and is running low on his medication, which worries his daughter.

Princess’ response to the threat was particularly galling for Chalik because this was the cruise company’s second go-round with the virus spreading on a ship. Three weeks earlier, cases of the novel coronavirus started to spread on the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined in Japan.

Quarantine questioned

Experts have since said the decision by the cruise line and Japanese government to contain passengers and crew onboard likely led to the wildfire spread of the virus throughout the ship. In total, eight people died and more than 700 were infected.

“It would only stand to reason, that having experienced such a traumatic outbreak on board one of its vessels less than a month prior to the current voyage on board the Grand Princess, that the Defendant would have learned to take all necessary precautions to keep its passengers, crew and the general public safe.

“Unfortunately, the Defendant PRINCESS did no such thing,” Chalik’s complaint read. “PRINCESS chose to place profits over the safety of its passengers, crew and the general public in continuing to operate business as usual.”

On Sunday, Chalik’s calls to her parents stopped going through.

The Georgia angle

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday that 34 Georgians and “additional American citizens from the eastern United States” were scheduled to be taken from the cruise ship to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has not responded to requests for comment on what will happen to the Weissbergers or other Florida passengers.

2 crew members get on another boat

Two crew members from the Grand Princess’ earlier voyage to Mexico were transferred off the ship Feb. 21 and sent to the Regal Princess, a ship heading on a 14-day Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades, Florida. On Sunday, the ship didn’t dock in Broward County as planned but remained offshore while the two crew members underwent testing for the coronavirus. The tests came back negative Sunday afternoon, and the ship was cleared to dock.

— This report was compiled by ArLuther Lee for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.