If a ruling Monday by a Los Angeles federal judge is followed by others, it could offer the cruise line something of a safe harbor under the Death on the High Seas Act. The century-old federal law limits payouts for survivors to "pecuniary" damages such as how much the deceased contributed through wages or housework. One maritime lawyer said that in the case of retirees, who make up a large portion of Carnival's customers, the recovery may amount to little more than burial costs.
The subject of the ruling was a 71-year-old man who died in April after allegedly contracting Covid-19 while cruising on the Coral Princess. His family was trying to keep its wrongful-death lawsuit in state court, where they were seeking punitive damages as well as recovery for other losses. But the judge said the only way to proceed was under federal law.