Carnival Cruise Lines was negligent and engaged in misleading representations over the Ruby Princess voyage in 2020, the Federal Court has found.
Some 2,600 passengers were on board an ill-fated trip from Sydney in March that year, before an outbreak of COVID-19 forced the vessel to turn around.
More than 660 people tested positive to the virus and 28 deaths have been linked to the cluster.
A class action alleged Carnival, which chartered the ship, and its owner/operator Princess Cruise Lines, breached duties of care and Australian Consumer Law.
Justice Angus Stewart today found Carnival was negligent in certain respects with regard to the precautions taken for passenger safety.
He also found the company made misleading representations in pre-holiday communications with passengers, including by suggesting it was "reasonably safe" to take the cruise."I have found that before the embarkation of passengers on the Ruby Princess for the cruise in question, the respondents knew or ought to have known about the heightened risk of coronavirus infection on the vessel, and its potentially lethal consequences," the judge said.
The company also should have known that their screening procedures were unlikely to catch all infectious passengers, the judge found.
According to Justice Stewart, that knowledge arose from experience the prior month with outbreaks on two ships also operated by the company, the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess. "To the respondents' knowledge, to proceed with the cruise carried a significant risk of a coronavirus outbreak with possible disastrous consequences, yet they proceeded regardless."
No damages for personal injury
The judge found to cancel the cruise would not have been so burdensome that a reasonable person in the circumstances would not have done so.
"The respondents were therefore negligent and in breach of their duty of care," he said.
A Carnival Australia spokesperson said the company had seen the judgement and was considering it in detail. "The pandemic was a difficult time in Australia's history, and we understand how heartbreaking it was for those affected," the statement said.
Lead plaintiff Susan Karpik's case of COVID was mild, however her husband Henry became very ill and was at one point placed in an induced coma, given only days to live. He spent two months in hospital. Mrs Karpik, a retired nurse, sought damages of $360,000 for personal injury, distress and disappointment.
Justice Stewart awarded no damages for personal injury, finding that her case was below the claimable threshold, in part because he wasn't satisfied she suffered from long COVID. She was, however, entitled by the judgement to $4,400 plus interest for out of pocket medical expenses.
The judge found that any damages for distress and disappointment were offset by a refund all passengers received for the cruise.