Maritime Personal Injury Attorney Spencer Aronfeld Discusses Suing Cruise Lines in COVID-19 Cases

Under an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it will be another three months — at least — until cruise ships will once again be able to sail from U.S. ports. In the meantime, cruise lines are dealing with a host of lawsuits filed by passengers and crew who accuse the companies of negligence in exposing them to the coronavirus.

Spencer Aronfeld, a lawyer with several pending coronavirus cases, said, “Suing a cruise line for these types of cases is extraordinarily difficult.” That’s because cruise lines enjoy a number of protections. They’re not U.S. companies and not subject to health and safety regulations like the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The only way to really hold them responsible in a courtroom is to show a judge and a jury that their actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, and that’s a very loose term,” Aronfeld said. He and other attorneys will make the case that cruise lines ignored information about the pandemic and were negligent in failing to warn passengers.

A major factor protecting cruise lines is the ticketing agreements each passenger signs, which limit how and where lawsuits can be filed. Aronfeld said companies also benefit from maritime laws written decades ago.

“One of the classics,” as he called it, is the Death on the High Seas Act. It’s a century-old law that limits the amount a family can recover for funeral expenses and lost income. It applies to any deaths that occur from events that happen more than three miles offshore. “One of the challenges we’re going to have,” Aronfeld said, “is to find out exactly where the ship was when that passenger contracted the virus.”  To read the entire story, visit NPR.org.

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