Despite extensive news reports about the outbreak on the Diamond Princess, a sister vessel docked and quarantined near Tokyo in early February, the cruise ship company and its top medical officer “decided to disregard the deadly nature of the Grand Princess and its foreseeably lethal environment to passengers,” the lawsuit said.
It was filed Wednesday by Eva Wong, widow of Ronald Wong, along with her son, Benjamin.
Their complaint accuses the cruise line and its parent company, Carnival Corp., of seeking “substantial profits” when the Grand Princess traveled from Mexico to San Francisco to board new passengers, including Eva and Ronald Wong, on Feb. 21. At that point, the ship had already been infected, yet it continued en route to Hawaii, the lawsuit said.
Sixty-two passengers from the Mexico cruise and more than 1,000 crew members remained on board.
The Wongs joined that voyage and were not notified about possible exposure to the coronavirus until March 4, when they received a notice from Dr. Grant Tarling, the chief medical officer for Carnival. The couple showed no signs of COVID-19 and were sent to Travis Air Force Base after they disembarked in Oakland on March 10.
They later tested positive. Ronald Wong fell ill with a fever on March 15 and was transferred to Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo, where he died alone.
Nanci Nishimura, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, representing the Wongs in this case, said she was angered by the sequence of events. She noted that the couple had long planned this vacation to celebrate Ronald Wong’s 64th birthday.
“Nobody deserves to go on a long-planned happy cruise with loved ones, only to contract a deadly disease, die alone and come home in a box. Nobody deserves that,” Nishimura said in an interview Friday.
She criticized the cruise line for failing to disinfect the ship after it returned from Mexico and for generally seeming oblivious to the threat of COVID-19.
“Nothing was done to give the Wongs or any other newly boarding passengers notice,” Nishimura said. “They weren’t warned. They weren’t tested. Nor was the ship disinfected. The worst of it is the chief medical officer who has 27 years of experience … and is reputed to be an international expert, did nothing.”
Wong and her son are seeking a jury trial and multiple damage awards for what they say is reckless negligence. They contend that the ship had a financial motive to ignore warnings of a deadly virus and board passengers anyway because cruise ships reap a large share of their profit from the purchases people make on board.
A spokesperson for Princess Cruises declined to comment on any pending litigation, but released a company statement saying it has “been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew.”
“Our response throughout this process has focused on the well-being of our guests and crew within the parameters dictated to us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness,” the company said.
The coronavirus has plunged the cruise industry into a deep crisis, with outbreaks on multiple ships before Princess and other lines suspended operations in March. In the chaos of the global pandemic, ships were left stranded at sea, with passengers falling ill and even dying on board.
The lawsuit is one of many filed against Princess and other cruise lines.