Couple Aboard Docked Grand Princess Cruise Ship Is Suing Company for $1 Million Over Coronavirus

A Florida couple stuck aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California, is seeking legal action against vessel’s owners, claiming the company is responsible for exposing them to the coronavirus.

Ronald and Eva Weissberger, both of Broward County, Florida, filed a lawsuit on Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, seeking $1 million in damages from Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., CNN reported.

The pair, whose ages or medical conditions were not identified, allege the company exhibited gross negligence by failing to have proper screening protocols in place that minimized the risk of passengers’ exposure, Reuters reported. They say Princess Cruise Lines “chose to place profits over the safety of its passengers, crew and general public in continuing to operate business as usual, despite their knowledge of the actual risk of injury to plaintiffs, who are elderly with underlying medical conditions.”

That choice, the Weissbergers allege, caused them emotional distress and trauma, with fears that they will contract COVID-19.

“Princess has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew,” a spokesperson for the Princess Cruises said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “Our response throughout this process has focused on well-being our guests and crew within the parameters mandated on us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness. We [have] not been served with any lawsuit relating to this matter, and we will not comment on any pending litigation.”

The Weissbergers were two of the thousands of passengers and crew members aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship when it departed from San Francisco on Feb. 21, Reuters reported.

A total of 21 people aboard the ship — two passengers and 19 crew members — have since tested positive for the illness.

On Monday, after days of waiting off the California coast, the Grand Princess was finally allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland. It had been waiting off the coast of Northern California since March 4.

The disembarkation process will take two to three days, according to The New York Times, with California Gov. Gavin Newson explaining in a press conference on Sunday that those requiring “acute medical treatment and hospitalization” will be the first to disembark.

As of Monday, the Weissbergers were still on board the ship, Reuters reported.

All passengers from the United States will be transported from the port to complete mandatory 14-day quarantines. Most California residents will be taken to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, while the remaining passengers will be taken to a Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, according to USA Today. American citizens from other states will be transported to Texas and Georgia.

Passengers from 54 countries are also on board and will be sent back to their respective homes, TIME reported.

Meanwhile, the majority of the crew members will remain on the ship, which is set to leave San Francisco in several days.

The Grand Princess ship has been linked to a total of 12 coronavirus cases, stemming from a voyage to Mexico made prior to its current trip (specifically, between February 11-21). An elderly man aboard died of the virus in Placer County, and numerous others onboard exhibited symptoms of the illness.

Another ship from the same company was quarantined off the coast of Japan in early February after the illness was reported on board. Over 700 people eventually tested positive and eight died, according to The New York Times. 

The previous cases were cited in the Weissbergers’ suit as to why the company should have been prepared to protect its passengers during their Feb. 21 voyage.

In the documents, the Weissbergers claim that when they boarded, passengers were only asked to “fill out a piece of paper confirming they were not sick,” Reuters reported.

They allege in the papers they were not given any warnings about potential exposure, either before they boarded or while they were already on board, CNN reported. If they had been made aware of the risk, the Weissbergers say they would have disembarked the ship.

But Princess Cruise Lines have said they issued a health advisory letter to those aboard the Grand Princess, which had been returning to San Francisco from Hawaii, The New York Times reported. The letter alerted those on board to the fact that the CDC was “investigating a small cluster” of COVID-19 cases in Northern California and asked guests who also sailed on the ship’s previous voyage to remain in their stateroom until they had been contacted and cleared by medical staff.

Meanwhile, just on Sunday, the U.S. State Department and the CDC have issued an official warning against traveling on cruise ships, specifically among “travelers with underlying health conditions.”

Despite the official warnings, many major cruise lines are continuing to operate.

Princess has a list of upcoming voyages that have been canceled on its website, which includes cruises in Asia, but also several departing from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale.

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