A passenger from Ohio who sailed aboard the Majesty of the Seas last November and developed Legionnaires’ disease has filed suit against Royal Caribbean. The passenger alleges that only after he boarded the cruise ship in Miami, and the ship had set sail, did the cruise line notify him, via a notice placed under his door, that Legionella had been discovered in the ship’s water system on prior cruises.
Legionnaires’ disease is one of the most serious diseases a passenger can contract on a cruise ship. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe pneumonia caused by inhalation or possibly aspiration of warm, aerosolized water containing Legionella organisms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contaminated ships’ whirlpool spas and potable water supply systems are the most commonly implicated sources of shipboard Legionella outbreaks. Symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headache. Although prompt antibiotic treatment can kill the bacteria, 5% to 30% of people infected with Legionella will die from the infection.
After the cruise ended on November 13, 2015, Royal Caribbean sent an email to the disembarking passengers, stating that they may have been exposed to Legionella during the cruise. It stated that if passengers become ill, they should seek medical attention and undergo testing for Legionella.
Royal Caribbean stated that two passengers had been confirmed to be infected with Legionnaires’ disease from the cruise ship, and that one person was possibly infected. One person was infected during a cruise in July 2015 and one other person was infected during a cruise in October 2015. The email stated that Royal Caribbean had shut down the whirlpools on the ship after it confirmed the first case of Legionnaires’ disease associated with the July sailing. The cruise line claimed that it treated the ship’s water supplies with extra chlorine (the email mentions “two rounds of treatment with chlorine”), but water samples taken from showers confirmed the presence of Legionella.
Royal Caribbean also sent the email to those people who had booked cruises on the Majesty on future dates, advising that the risk of illness is “low but not zero” and suggesting to future cruisers that they may want to reschedule their cruises for a later date depending on their individual risk factors.
A few days after returning home, the passenger began experiencing symptoms consistent with Legionnaires’ disease. He visited his doctor on an urgent basis and he was immediately hospitalized. His lawsuit lists kidney, heart and pulmonary failure among other complications which he suffered as a result of the disease which he contracted on the cruise ship.
The lawsuit alleges that Royal Caribbean was on actual notice of Legionella on its ship but notified the passengers only after Majesty sailed and was at sea. In addition to alleging that the cruise line was negligent, the lawsuit states that the cruise line “acted with deliberate and wanton recklessness” in refusing to advise passengers of the Legionella prior to the cruise. Royal Caribbean, the lawsuit alleges, acted in “callous disregard” of the dangers to the passenger’s health in order to promote its economic interests.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages, due to the cruise line’s intentional misconduct.
The lawsuit was filed by Miami maritime lawyer Domingo Rodriquez.
There was a discussion regarding Legionnaires’ disease and this particular cruise last year on the Cruise Critic boards. If the comments are accurate, some of the passengers apparently were not notified of the Legionella on the ship during the cruise but were notified only after the cruise was over. At least one person commenting said that he sailed on the cruise ending November 13, 2015 but never received an email from the cruise line. One poster mentioned that a family member who was on the cruise was allegedly admitted to the hospital with Legionnaires’ Disease. She stated at the time: “we did not get the email about the ship being contaminated until the afternoon of Nov. 13, after we had just gotten off the ship . . . This was very irresponsible and unethical on Royal Caribbean’s part.”
In my opinion, it is outrageous that Royal Caribbean kept sailing the Majesty if it knew that the ship’s water supply was still contaminated with Legionella after multiple “extra-chlorine” treatments. It is probable that some of the passengers or crew members would become sick because, obviously, passengers are going to shower during cruises. Unfortunately, we have seen this cruise line take the “show-must-go-on” attitude to extremes over the years, whether it is recklessly sailing into hurricanes or repeatedly exposing its passengers to noro virus on successive cruises.
There have been a number cases of Legionnaires’ disease on cruise ships over the years. The most infamous case involved the Horizon cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean’s sister cruise line, Celebrity Cruises (before it was purchased by Royal Caribbean), back in 1994.
Following a deadly shipboard outbreak which caused Celebrity to cancel cruises and fly passengers back from Bermuda, passengers sued Celebrity alleging that the company defrauded them by refusing to disclose that Legionella was present on the cruise ship. An Associated Press writer wrote that: “on Saturday passengers on the cruise ship Horizon were told the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease on board was low. On Tuesday they were hustled off the ship in Bermuda as a precaution.” (Numerous passengers were nonetheless infected). The AP quoted passengers as saying at the time: “everyone is entitled to a worry-free vacation and this has been anything but that” and “the people who operate this line should be chastised” and “what they did to the passengers is unconscionable.”
Celebrity subsequently sued the manufacturer of the ship’s pool and whirlpool equipment, alleging that extensive press coverage of the disease outbreak stigmatized the company, thus hurting its reputation and reducing its profits. Celebrity obtained a $193 million verdict, although an appellate court subsequently reduced the verdict.
Regarding the recent outbreak, if Royal Caribbean was uncertain whether the Majesty of the Seas still had Legionella in its water system, merely warning future passengers that the risk of illness was “low” but not canceling cruises was, at a minimum, irresponsible. Not informing passengers who cruised on the ship of the disease until after they sailed is truly reprehensible conduct.
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