After two passengers on their luxury cruise tested positive for Covid-19 in March, Emilio and Barbara Hernandez were so frantic to get off the ship, they wrote a note to the captain.

The Costa Luminosa sailed on with them still onboard, and they ended up with the virus. Now recovering, the Hernandezes and 98 fellow passengers have sued Costa Cruise Lines Inc., a brand owned by Carnival Corp., alleging the firm endangered passengers’ lives through negligence and bad decision-making.

A Costa spokeswoman said the company stepped up its sanitation of ships and then took action, including quarantining passengers, after it learned of the positive test results.

The Hernandezes and their fellow plaintiffs are seeking class-action status. They may have rough sailing ahead.

The tickets that cruise passengers buy resemble legal contracts, and they generally contain language barring customers from filing class-action suits – lawsuits that allow one or more plaintiffs to act on behalf of a larger group. That’s just one of several built-in legal protections in cruise tickets meant to safeguard companies against a rash of litigation that’s already arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

“These claims are enormous – nothing the industry’s seen before with so many passengers fallen sick and bringing suit,” said Martin Davies, director of the Tulane Maritime Law Center at Tulane University Law School. Any judgments would be paid out of an insurance pool that the cruise lines have formed, Davies said.

Currently, no cruise company faces more claims related to the virus than Carnival, the industry’s largest operator. At least 22 lawsuits have been filed against Carnival-owned companies, seeking millions of dollars in damages. The company said it doesn’t comment on active litigation.

By comparison, Celebrity Cruises, owned by the second-largest company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., faces just one U.S. lawsuit so far: a proposed class-action filed by crew members who allege Celebrity failed to protect them from the virus. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., the third largest, faces a shareholder lawsuit that alleges the company failed to disclose adverse facts that affected it due to Covid-19. Lawyers say passenger suits against other cruise companies are probably coming.

Some of the virus-related claims, including the Hernandezes’ case, seek class-action status and involve multiple plaintiffs, totaling almost 200 so far.

But suits seeking class-action certifications face an “uphill battle,” Davies said, because of language contained in the passengers’ tickets. “Provided that’s what the contract says, generally the courts will find that enforceable.”

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