Public Health

Causation is an issue in suits against cruise lines by passengers who contracted COVID-19

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Two federal judges last month dismissed cases filed by passengers who blamed Princess Cruise Lines for their COVID-19 illness.

The August rulings were among the first in the nation to address issues of injuries and causation, reports.

The cases demonstrate the difficulties of proving causation, according to Christopher Robinette, a professor at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School, who spoke with

If people confined to a cruise ship for several weeks can’t demonstrate causation, it will be even more difficult for those suing other businesses for contracting COVID-19, Robinette said.

Miami lawyer Spencer Aronfeld, who has sued cruise lines in other COVID-19 cases, discussed the August rulings with

“These are not going to be easy cases,” he said.

On Aug. 17, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson of the Central District of California dismissed a case by a Canadian couple diagnosed with COVID-19 after taking a trip departing from San Francisco on Princess Cruise Lines. In a transcript of a telephone hearing obtained by, Pregerson said plaintiffs who have minimal COVID-19 symptoms may not be able to show injuries.

Pregerson also asked why the plaintiffs thought they contracted COVID-19 from the ship.

“The fact that someone got illness doesn’t mean that there is a negligence,” Pregerson said.

Days later, on Aug. 21, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer of the Central District of California dismissed four cases filed by passengers who said they contracted COVID-19 on a cruise departing from Australia. Fischer said the plaintiffs didn’t establish that negligence was the cause of the plaintiffs’ illness, according to

“Here, plaintiffs have failed to allege the amount of time between the alleged exposure and the date they began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or received a positive test result—a key fact necessary to render the causation allegations plausible, not merely possible,” Fischer wrote.

Both judges allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaints, and some have already done so. More cruise cases are pending, including at least three class actions.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in the dismissed cases is Debi Chalik, whose parents were on a ship in which a COVID-19 outbreak happened. She did not respond to’s request for comment.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Suing a cruise line? There are a boatload of challenges unique to the industry”

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