Every year news sources report certain cruise ships sail into port with several passengers sick from Norovirus. In years past, Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), Royal Caribbean Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Celebrity Cruises all reported Norovirus outbreaks on their ships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over twenty percent of all Norovirus cases contracted in the United States occurred in vacation settings including cruise ships. Norovirus in the cruise industry is so widespread that the CDC’s website lists all cruise ships with Norovirus outbreaks and when those outbreaks occured. We receive many calls from passengers who contracted Norovirus while cruising asking about their legal rights. This article is meant to explain what is Norovirus, how Norovirus spreads and what are the cruise lines’ liabilities for Norovirus.
First identified in 1972 after an outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio, Norovirus is an RNA type virus that causes approximately 90% of epidemic non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world and perhaps is responsible for 50% of all foodborne gastroenteritis in the United States. Norovirus symptoms usually occur 24 to 48 hours after the passenger comes into contract with an infected area or consuming contaminated food / water. However, in some cases, symptoms can appear within 10 hours. Common symptoms include abdominal pain (stomach cramps), fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes, the symptoms are so severe that the passenger dehydrates and experiences heart complications.
Norovirus can rapidly spread from person to person through contaminated food or water and/or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus is found in the vomit and stool (fecal matter) of infected persons from the day they begin to feel ill. An infected person can contaminate others for two or more weeks after the symptoms pass. This makes food handlers and dishwashers optimal vehicles to transport the virus to unsuspecting diners. Sick stewards whose job it is to clean the cabin and make the beds also can easily transfer the virus to passengers.
The following is suggested in order to help protect yourself from Norovirus:
- Wash your hands regularly (especially before and after every meal);
- Avoid shaking hands;
- Avoid public restrooms;
- Use alcohol based hand sanitizer or wash your hands after touching handrails and elevator buttons;
- Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth.
Cruise lines owe their passengers the duty of reasonable care. In the context of a Norovirus, this duty includes properly cleaning and disinfecting the cabins, common areas and bathrooms as well as confining infected crewmembers to their cabins. Cruise lines also have a duty to properly maintain, clean and disinfect food storage units, trays, ice machines, plates and utensils. Unfortunately, cruise lines do not always do what the law requires. This is why outbreaks occur.
Being infected with Norovirus on your vacation is not fun. However, some passengers who contract the virus exhibit symptoms so severe that they have to be hospitalized. These people are entitled to compensation. For those passengers who are hospitalized, the law allows the recovery of medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages.
If you have contracted a serious case of Norovirus while on a cruise and would like to know more about your rights, please contact our board certified admiralty and maritime attorneys.