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Cruise Ship Sickness: Can Passengers Sue?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

More than 300 people aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship have fallen sick. Although the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness is not life threatening, passengers and crew members have experienced vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, the cause of the sickness aboard the Explorer of the Seas is unknown, but the cruise line believes the illnesses are consistent with the highly contagious norovirus, Reuters reports.

With so many passengers sickened by the Royal Caribbean outbreak, could a wave of lawsuits soon follow?

What Is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that spreads from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The norovirus season typically runs from November through March and peaks in January, according to the CDC.

Akin to an average stomach flu, norovirus usually lasts one to three days and entails flu-like symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Most people recover without treatment, but some require rehydration with liquids or intravenous fluids.

The virus typically occurs when large groups of people are contained in a small area such as cruise ships, dormitories, and nursing homes. Earlier this month, the CDC reported a similar outbreak on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. Last year, it reported nine cases, including one involving a Royal Caribbean ship.

Potential Liability for Cruise Outbreak

Under the Kermarec rule, a cruise liner has a duty to provide reasonable care to its passengers. In this case, the question is whether Royal Caribbean took all reasonable precautions to prevent a norovirus outbreak.

Considering it's peak norovirus season, the virus is known to occur on cruise ships, and the precedent for cruise-related norovirus lawsuits, Royal Caribbean could be looking at potential lawsuits over the outbreak.

For starters, the cruise line could face potential legal liability for the outbreak if it had a sub-standard hygiene protocol, such as inadequately cleaning the restrooms or improperly handling food and water. Another major liability concern is whether the cruise line's response to the outbreak -- such as cleaning the ship, enforcing a quarantine for infected passengers, and ending the trip early -- was adequate.

The investigation is still ongoing, so it will take some time before it becomes clear what exactly caused the outbreak and whether the cruise line could have reasonably done anything to prevent it.

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