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Disney cruise passengers sue, claim they caught the coronavirus on ships

The lawsuits provide brief details on the plaintiffs and their children’s symptoms.
The Disney cruise ship Fantasy pictured at Port Canaveral, Fla., on March 7, 2012. Disney Cruise Line is facing four federal lawsuits from tourists who say they contracted the coronavirus while on board last March.
The Disney cruise ship Fantasy pictured at Port Canaveral, Fla., on March 7, 2012. Disney Cruise Line is facing four federal lawsuits from tourists who say they contracted the coronavirus while on board last March. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Mar. 8
Updated Mar. 8

Disney Cruise Line is facing four federal lawsuits from Utah and Arizona tourists who claim they contracted the coronavirus while on board the Disney Fantasy ship last March, just before the cruise business docked during the pandemic.

The tourists said they contracted the virus while on board and began feeling sick, according to the four lawsuits filed March 2 in federal court’s Orlando division that each seek unspecified damages.

A Disney Cruise Line spokeswoman denied the lawsuits’ allegations.

“We disagree with the allegations and will respond to them in court. No guests or Crew reported symptoms of Covid-19 while aboard the Disney Fantasy during the March 7, 2020, sailing,” Cynthia Martinez said in a statement. “Disney Cruise Line communicated health and safety information with guests in advance of and during their sailing and had numerous protocols in place at the time.”

The lawsuits accused Disney of refusing to let passengers cancel or reschedule their cruises even if they had “autoimmune diseases and compromised health conditions,” so they were “left without any option” to go on their March 7-14, 2020 trip.

According to a Disney email sent to passengers, guests were allowed to change their reservation up until the day before embarkation to receive a 100 percent cruise credit.

“Disney continued to allow passengers ... to eat in buffets settings, provide group entertainment activities aboard the vessel (such as dancing) and otherwise allowed passengers to fully participate in the subject cruise as if there was no COVID-19 outbreak or threat thereof aboard the vessel,” the lawsuits said.

Disney said it stopped the buffet March 12.

The four plaintiffs retained the same Miami law firm and their complaints were similarly phrased in the court documents. The plaintiffs were Arizona residents Judy Parkin and Krystal Skinner and Utah residents Kailee Taylor and Scott and Jana Olsen. The attorneys representing the four lawsuits, Stefanie Black and Jason Margulies, did not return messages.

Posted on the Disney Cruise Line’s website is a pandemic warning: “By sailing with Disney Cruise Line you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

The lawsuits provide brief details on the plaintiffs and their children’s symptoms.

After the ship returned, the lawsuit claimed, Scott and Jana Olson’s child was taken to a hospital intensive care unit on March 16, 2020, with a high fever and difficulty breathing.

The child, who had an unspecified autoimmune disease tested positive for COVID-19 on May 1, the lawsuit said. The parents also tested positive.

“Plaintiffs feared for their own lives as well as the lives of each other,” the lawsuit said.

One of Krystal Skinner’s children also had an autoimmune disease that wasn’t specified in the lawsuit and felt body aches, fever, chills and a cough on the cruise. Her other child, who has asthma, had migraines, a high fever and difficulty breathing, the lawsuit stated.

Both tested positive for COVID-19 on April 15, the lawsuit said. Their mother also felt sick on board and tested positive the same day as her children, according to the lawsuit,

The lawsuits outlined a timeline early last year that showed how concerns that the highly contagious virus was a threat to cruise ships became public.

That timeline included Carnival’s Diamond Princess, which had a COVID-19 outbreak of nearly 700 cases in early February and quarantined for two weeks while anchored at Yokohama Harbor in Japan. The lawsuit said the incident was “an early, dire warning of how easily COVID-19 could spread on massive ocean liners” for Disney Cruise Line and the cruise industry.

On March 8, 2020, the day after the Fantasy left, the U.S. Department of State recommended Americans should not travel on cruise ships.

Since then, the cruise industry has shut down for the past 15 months. Disney Cruise Line canceled sailings through at least May of this year, the Sentinel previously reported.

Disney Fantasy, which has been sailing since 2012, previously ran year-round cruises from Port Canaveral.

“If at any time during your cruise you believe you are ill, we ask that you please contact the ship’s Health Center immediately,” Disney Cruise Line sent in an email to passengers before the Fantasy took to the water last March.

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