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Is it safe to get back on board? Resuming cruise travel post COVID-19 pandemic:

Millions around the globe are eagerly awaiting a green light to resume cruising once again.  The decision to restart cruise operations carries with it an obligation on behalf of the cruise lines to ensure the safety of the passengers, crew, and residents of the various ports forming the infrastructure of the cruise industry.  Cruise enthusiasts should carefully consider the decision to book their next cruise vacation, including locations and precautions.

The cruise line industry has been on “pause” since the pandemic arrived in March 2020.  Now, the situation is fluid and unpredictable, with return dates changing like the tides.  In the U.S., Carnival Cruise Line plans on resuming cruises in North America on June 27, 2020. Norwegian Cruise Line has delayed North American operations through May 31, 2021.  And Royal Caribbean has suspended operations until the start of May 2021.  Canada has extended a full ban on cruising until February 28, 2022, and in the UK cruises are on hold into summer 2021.  In other parts of the world, some Asian and European cruises have already set sail in the new normal.

When cruises resume in the U.S. they will be subject to a strict safety framework issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The goal is to ensure that ship operators have adequate health and safety protections and crewmember testing protocols in place to stop the spread of the virus.  Before fully operational cruises commence, the lines will be required to conduct simulated voyages to test their ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.  Thereafter, a phased return to passenger voyages will be permitted once virus safety and virus spread mitigation has been demonstrated.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide.  Passengers who decide to go on a cruise are instructed to get tested for COVID-19 three to five days in advance of a voyage, and to remain home for a full 7 days after travel even if they test negative after returning to home port.  Some cruise lines have indicated they will require all passengers to receive a COVID vaccine prior to boarding.  Others, including Norwegian Cruise Line, have already begun requiring the crew to be vaccinated.  The cruise lines have indicated they will work with medical and scientific experts to develop best practices for safe sailing.

Statements by cruise industry leaders claim cautious optimism allowing operations to resume in the latter part of 2021.  Increased vaccinations and the slowing spread of the virus are encouraging advancements.  Cruise ticket sales are massively up, and 2022 cruise bookings already outpace those of 2019.  Additionally, stock prices for the major cruise lines have steadily risen in recent weeks following a drastic decline in the wake of the uncertainty of 2020.  Despite the strengthening market and ticket sales, in all likelihood the fourth quarter of 2021 is the most likely target date to be realistically met by the cruise industry.

ihl-and-tg-02Cruise passengers who decide to sail when operations resume should take extra caution.  Make sure to regularly check your temperature, and sanitize your hands, shoes and luggage whenever possible.  Continue to use face masks and social distance when possible, even if you are vaccinated.  In addition to exercising caution for COVID-19 risks, cruise passengers in the new normal must be vigilant to avoid other crowd hazards and potential injuries.  The attorneys at Leesfield & Partners have a long history of successfully representing injured cruise passengers and crewmembers in the pre-COVID world.

Even under the best of circumstances, cruising can be a dangerous endeavor. Cruise vessels are similar to floating malls, with thousands of people congregating to enjoy vacation with activities, food, and alcohol.  When the cruise lines resume operations, the crewmembers and staff protocols may be overwhelmed or rusty following years of delay.  Many of the components and areas of the ship may have been left unmaintained.  And there will be pressure on the Captains to perform and hit their itineraries precisely, especially given the inherent COVID-19 delays in embarkation and debarkation.  These issues create a potential recipe for disaster and the likelihood of personal injuries while onboard.

We routinely represent individuals who suffer from a variety of fall injuries while onboard cruise vessels.  Often times the floors of cruise vessels can become extremely slippery and wet, and the narrow and dark corridors of the vessels frequently contain unexpected changes in elevations, tripping hazards, and unmarked steps.  These conditions commonly cause serious and even fatal injuries to unknowing passengers.

Passengers who elect to go on shore excursions during their cruise vacation may also face safety hazards and risks.  We recently achieved a multimillion dollar result for a group of family members who were badly injured when an off road vehicle, called a Unimog, overturned and rolled over while operated unsafely on a Bahamian shore excursion.  In 2019 we successfully represented the family of a young man who died during a shore excursion when he unknowingly dove into dangerously shallow unmarked water during a Mexican excursion trip.  These types of shore excursion injury incidents, as well as vehicle and bus crashes, ATV collisions and roll overs, and zip line failures, are common tragic occurrences during shore excursions.  Remember, foreign shore excursion operators may not be subject to the same types of safety and security protocols that are routine in the U.S.  Total recoveries for our firm now exceed $250,000,000.00.

The attorneys at Leesfield & Partners are known industry leaders in advancing cruise ship medical malpractice and failure to evacuate claims on behalf of injured crew and passengers.  We have successfully resolved many cases involving the failure of cruise line physicians to properly and adequately diagnose and disembark stroke patients who fall ill at sea.  Many passengers are unaware that there are various options for safe and effective medical disembarkation while at sea.  These disembarkation and evacuation options including helicopter evacuations assisted by the coast guard and government agencies worldwide, disembarkations by other smaller vessels that can rendezvous with cruise ships to transport patients, as well as the readily available options for the cruise lines to divert course to a different port, increase speed to evacuate a critically ill passenger, or delay leaving port to care for a sick or injured individual. In many cases it is possible to evacuate patients via fixed-wing air ambulance so that they can be transported to competent medical facilities to receive the care and treatment they need. The attorneys at Leesfield & Partners have handled more cruise related medical malpractice and failure to evacuate claims than any other law firm in the U.S. and around the world.  Representative cases include failure to evacuate a female passenger suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, medical malpractice and failure to evacuate a man suffering extreme respiratory distress which resulted in death, and the tragic case of a man held on a vessel’s medical center for an excessive period while suffering a heart attack resulting in his preventable death.   Please remember to acquire travel insurance to cover an air ambulance evacuation prior to embarking on your cruise vacation.

While the attorneys at Leesfield & Partners have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of our injured clients and their families, your safety is still our number one concern. If you or a loved one are injured or die on a cruise vacation, please contact us immediately so that we can discuss your rights.  We hope that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us and the world can reopen safely.  We urge you to use caution should you elect to go on a cruise in the new normal, and save our contact in case any issues arise during your cruise.  While we urge caution, we also encourage you to resume normal life while knowing that if anything should ever happen, Leesfield & Partners has your back.  Enjoy your next cruise vacation!

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things
you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away
from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

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