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Crazy request in ‘cruise from hell’ class action

Pacific Explorer
Carnival has been ordered to hand over millions of documents as it fights a class action law suit. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Carnival cruises has been ordered to hand over millions of documents as it fights a class action lawsuit alleging it failed to implement procedures to stop a widespread viral outbreak.

Julie McLean-Phillips is representing passengers who travelled on the Sun Princess ship for any of its eight successive cruises between December 2016 and February 2017.

As the lead applicant, Ms Phillips claimed Carnival is liable after it allegedly failed to tell passengers about the risk of norovirus and the potential for an outbreak on its cruises.

She said passengers ought to have been informed after three people became ill with norovirus one day into the 13-night cruise and should have been allowed to disembark the ship.

Appearing before the Federal Court of Australia on Friday, Carnival cruises was ordered to handover a trove of documents relating to its ships, manifests, and crew procedures.

Carnival solicitor David McLure SC said the documents, delivered as part of a discovery phase, would take until December 2024 to unearth – eight years after Ms Phillips’ cruise.

“I realise that's a very long period of time, but being realistic about things … In the case of the Ruby Princess, which involved one ship, three million documents were discovered,” he said.

A woman is suing after a virus outbreak on the Sun Princess cruise ship in 2016.
A woman is suing after a virus outbreak on the Sun Princess cruise ship in 2016.

“The categories (of documents) being sought here are much more broad and over a longer period of time, and over eight cruises. At least 4.1 million documents have already been uploaded.”

Mr McLure said the applicant, Shine Lawyers, would “have to live with” the delay and cited the class action already sought against Carnival following the infamous Covid outbreak on the Ruby Princess.

The documents being sought include all passengers complaints related to norovirus and its symptoms on the affected cruises, any closure of facilities, passenger lists, and training records.

Discussions between key personnel – ship captains, directors, and senior managers – about any potential cancellation of the voyage or changing to another ship will also be included.

Nonetheless, Carnival escaped being ordered to provide many of the documents being sought, including 17,000 customer contracts and an “extraordinary” amount of procedure history.

Lawyer Rachel Francois had sought documentation from Carnival relating norovirus procedures dating to 2001, but had the application struck down by Justice Ian Jackman on Friday.

Justice Jackson, brother of actor Hugh Jackman, told the court Ms Francois’ case would include allegations procedures were not competently implemented, due at least in part to training.

During the hours-long debate, Justice Jackson said it was likely the initial trial would be on just Ms Phillips’ cruise, with that result impacting upon the other eight affected cruises.

While ultimately the decision on how to run the trial will not be made until next year, Justice Jackson rejected an application by Carnival to limit discovery to just Ms Phillips’ cruise.

“My inclination is that for the purpose of discovery it ought to be given to all relevant cruises, even if as it turns out there will be an initial trial on just one cruises,” Justice Jackson said.

“I imagine there will be overlapping factual mattes which go beyond Ms Phillips’ cruises, and at some point you'll have to give discovery documents on the relevant cruises.”

Ms Phillips became sick after she and her family embarked on the “relaxing and pleasurable ”13-night cruise that departed Fremantle, Western Australia on December 5, 2016.

Pacific Explorer
The ship was operated by P&O, part of Carnival Australia. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Confined to her cabin for most of the trip with her ill sister, Ms Phillips reported experiencing “uncontrollable vomiting”, “explosive diarrhoea” and difficulty walking alone.

Ms Phillips claimed that after her sister became ill she was not offered alternative accommodation and was forced to remain in an unhygienic room soiled by vomit and faeces.

By the end of the cruise, Ms McLean-Phillips stated that 339 passengers and 13 crew had contracted norovirus, all of whom, she claimed, were unable to enjoy the ship’s facilities.

The other seven affected trips included to popular tourist destinations in Australia and overseas, including Margaret River, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.

The trips occurred back-to-back from December 5, 2016, with the last voyage - throughout the South Pacific - concluding February 26. The court was previously told hundreds of passengers could join the suite.

Sun Princess is a 23-year-old vessel operated by P&O, a part of Carnival, and accommodates 2000 passengers and 924 crew. In 2024, the cruise line plans to relaunch the vessel.

Carnival previously argued in court the risk of contracting the contagious illness on a cruise “would merely be an ordinary risk inherent in activities where people congregate”.

They further stated in documents tendered to court: “there is no prospect the court would find that any required warning would include detailing aspects of the norovirus”.

Carnival was also embroiled in High Court proceedings regarding a Covid outbreak on the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which infamously docked in Sydney in March 2020.

In October, Carnival Australia was found in the Federal Court to have been negligent and engaged in misleading representations over the Ruby Princess voyage in 2020.

The matter of the Sun Princess will reappear before the Federal Court in September 2024.