As of Wednesday, there were 130 cases of coronavirus in the United States, including one involving a New York lawyer. Nine people have died.
Most of the deaths occurred at a nursing home in the Seattle area, and 45 of the U.S. cases involved passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where the Japanese government’s quarantine procedures have raised questions.
Could coronavirus victims have a personal injury lawsuit against the cruise ships, nursing homes or hospitals where they were infected or treated? Law.com reached out to John “Jack” Hickey, of Miami’s Hickey Law Firm, who began his 40-year career defending cruise ships, but now he sues them. He said that personal injury lawyers would look at whether the facility or ship took “all reasonable measures” to prevent exposure to the virus.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Could a coronavirus victim sue for injuries?
We don’t know yet whether the cruise lines, first of all, if they took every reasonable measure they can to prevent the spread of this, and second, whether any cruise ship passengers really suffered anything. We don’t know if they have passed away, or suffered any life-changing injuries. That’s my initial response. And, then, generally speaking, the ticket contract expressly says the passenger waives class actions. I don’t know if that’s going to be enforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court—that waiver of class actions.
What would a lawsuit allege?
If the cruise line did not take all reasonable measures. What are reasonable measures? Let’s say in the case of the cruise ship with the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined by the Japanese government, every government has the inherent power to quarantine a ship, a train, a bus or plane, or any group of people that are coming into the country from outside that may have a disease. What we don’t know is whether the cruise line did everything it could to work with the Japanese government to get this quarantine and get the healthy people off that cruise ship. In the cruise ship, they’re in an enclosed environment where they’re exposed to people who potentially had the coronavirus. That’s what the big question mark there is. If there’s a cause of action, I think it would be there.
Should cruise lines be concerned about lawsuits?
I don’t think they’re worried right now about lawsuits. They may get one or two, they may get 100, but in the cruise industry, they’re more worried about cancellations and the lack of bookings—at least, in the near and medium term.
Have you gotten calls from coronavirus victims?
I’ve been contacted by lawyers across the country who have been in contact with people. I have not agreed to take any cases so far.