Trial Begins in Class-Action Suit Over Ruby Princess Outbreak

Ruby Princess
Ruby Princess in Sydney, 2019 (file image)

Published Oct 12, 2022 11:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, a class-action lawsuit over the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the Ruby Princess is going to trial at a court in Sydney, Australia. 2,600 passengers embarked on the ship's ill-fated cruise on March 8, 2020; about 660 would later test positive for COVID, 28 of whom would not survive. Hundreds of former passengers and family members have joined a lawsuit seeking damages from Princess Cruises and charterer Carnival Corporation, alleging that the companies had a duty of care to prevent an onboard outbreak and were liable for the outcome.

The counsel for the plaintiffs, barrister Ian Pike, noted that two other ships in the Princess fleet - Grand Princess and Diamond Princess - had already had COVID-19 outbreaks on board before Ruby Princess set sail. The Diamond Princess outbreak ultimately resulted in 13 known fatalities (according to the World Health Organization) and the Grand Princess in seven.

Before Ruby Princess departed the pier in Sydney, the ship's doctor had attempted to purchase enough masks to ensure a supply for everyone on board. There were not enough available in the supply chain, and with permission from Australian authorities, the ship departed without. 

"In circumstances where they knew they could not implement the obvious precautions because of inadequate supplies . . . this boat never should have sailed," Pike told the court. "What occurred at the end of the voyage ... was not some accident, it was something that was very likely to happen."

The counsel for Carnival Australia and Princess, David McClure, suggested that it was not possible to eradicate the risk of COVID-19 from a public space, and that passengers assumed that risk when they boarded the ship - just as they would in entering any other venue. He walked the court through illustrations of the spaces on board where passengers could voluntarily self-isolate if they so chose. 

"There is no decision of any court in this country that has recognized the kind of duties that the applicant contends were here," McClure asserted.