Holland America hit with lawsuit over deadly COVID-19 outbreak onboard MS Zaandam

CLAUDIO MONGE/AFP via Getty Images
  • Passengers stricken with COVID-19 onboard Holland America's MS Zaandam have filed suit against the cruise line.
  • The lawsuit alleges Holland America did not take proper precautions when it came to protecting passengers from the coronavirus.
  • "This cruise was a life-threatening nightmare," Lieff Cabraser partner Kenny Byrd said in a statement, saying that Holland America failed to act "even as the virus spread through the passengers and crew."

The Holland America Line has been hit with a lawsuit over the fatal outbreak of COVID-19 onboard the MS Zaandam in March.

The filing from Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC and Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC indicates that the plaintiffs are seeking to make the suit a federal class-action injury lawsuit against both Holland America and its parent company Carnival Corporation. The group of law firms filed the suit in Washington state "on behalf of cruise ship passengers who traveled on the MS Zaandam in March 2020 and were negligently exposed" to coronavirus, according to a statement sent to Business Insider.

"Our response throughout this process has put the safety and well-being of our guests and crew as the top priority, and has been informed by guidance by leading government agencies, including US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, as well as the evolving understanding from the medical community on best protocols," a Holland America spokesperson said in a statement sent to Business Insider. "Holland America Line does not comment on pending litigation."Advertisement

Along with the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, the Zaandam was one of the most high profile cruise ships to experience a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at sea.

The Zaandam first cast off from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7. Four days later, the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a "pandemic." Before its cancellation a little over a week into its itinerary, the cruise included stops in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the Falkland Islands. The ship was slated to conclude its voyage in San Antonio, Chile on March 21. Many passengers on board had signed up for back-to-back cruises, and the next leg would ultimately see them conclude their journey in Fort Lauderdale on April 7.

But the cruise came to an end after South American governments began shutting the ship out due to coronavirus concerns. On March 22, the ship's captain ordered passengers to stay in their cabins after crew and guests alike began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
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The ship was eventually allowed to pass through the Panama Canal and dock in Fort Lauderdale. A total of four passengers died during the cruise, although it was not confirmed whether or not each death occurred due to the virus. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that a crew member died in a hospital in Florida after testing positive for COVID-19.

The lawsuit specifically alleged that Holland America's failure to take action when faced with the risks posed by COVID-19. It cites the line's decision to continue sailing ships long after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a "global health emergency" on January 30, as well as after fatal outbreaks onboard the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess. "As plaintiffs understand the facts, Holland America and Carnival did not take any measures different from their typical preparations for a voyage, and made no COVID-19-specific efforts to prevent or contain contagion at the time of initial embarkation," the statement said.Advertisement

The lawsuit specifically focuses on plaintiff Carl Zehner, a resident of Tennessee and Zaandam passenger who tested positive for COVID-19. Trapped aboard the ship with his spouse Leonard Lindsay, Zehner was shuttled off to a number of different hospitals in Florida and put on a ventilator.

In its statement regarding the suit, the coalition of law firms said that Zehner has not yet totally recovered from the ordeal.

"This cruise was a life-threatening nightmare," Lieff Cabraser partner Kenny Byrd said in a statement. "Despite knowing of the risk and dangers of COVID-19 exposure on its ships, Holland America and Carnival put no meaningful screening or preventative measures in place on the cruises prior to departure and negligently continued to encourage guests to gather and mingle even as the virus spread through the passengers and crew."Advertisement

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