The Grand Princess cruise ship, which is currently docked in Oakland, pictured in 2007. (WIKIMEDIA/TEH TENNISMAN CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Grand Princess cruise ship, which is currently docked in Oakland, pictured in 2007. (WIKIMEDIA/TEH TENNISMAN CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jewish couple on cruise ship docked in Oakland sues cruise line over coronavirus

Florida couple Ronald and Eva Weissberger, two Jewish passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked yesterday in Oakland, are suing the cruise company, Princess Cruise Lines, for damages in excess of $1,000,000.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said their attorney and son-in-law Jason Chalik. He is married to the Weissbergers’ daughter, Debi Chalik, also an attorney.

Nineteen crew members and two passengers have tested positive for coronavirus on the Grand Princess, which public health officials held off the coast for several days before rerouting it from San Francisco to the Port of Oakland. Jason Chalik said the couple had suffered under the uncertainty as the outbreak spread.

“They tested 46 people out of 3,500 people, and half of them tested positive,” he said. “And what happened next? Nothing!”

He said passengers were not kept informed about the spread of the virus, nor about the plan for the ship and its passengers until they were told they’d be confined to their rooms a few days ago. Chalik also said no information was disseminated about quarantine plans once the ship docked.

“There’s been zero communication with us,” he said. “There’s been zero communication with them.”

The Weissbergers are a Canadian couple who settled in South Florida to be near their daughter and grandchildren. They are members of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, Florida. Ronald Weissberger, 74, was born in Romania and fled the Holocaust; Eva, 70, was born in Hungary.

They and other passengers embarked on the Grand Princess on Feb. 21 in San Francisco.

They’ve put profit over people. They wanted to keep their ships moving.

“They were going on a bucket list cruise to Hawaii,” Chalik said. “They’d never been to Hawaii.”

Chalik said the cruise line put the couple and other passengers at risk by not setting up better protocols after discovering coronavirus infections among passengers aboard the Grand Princess. He also said that passengers and crew only found out about the coronavirus outbreak on the ship from news media. They were not informed when they’d be allowed off, nor where they would be going. The Weissbergers disembarked late last night and were taken to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield for a 14-day quarantine. Chalik said he was sending his father-in-law’s heart medication by FedEx.

“They were put on a bus with 40 people,” he said. “None of them were tested.”

The lawsuit argues that after an outbreak on another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship company “would have learned to take all necessary precautions to keep its passengers, crew and the general public safe. Unfortunately, the Defendant PRINCESS did no such thing, which is why Plaintiffs are now at actual risk of immediate physical injury proximately caused by the Defendant’s negligence.”

In addition, a passenger who had been on a previous leg of the Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 60 people from that leg remained on the ship for the cruise bound for Hawaii, along with hundreds of crewmembers. “In continuing to sail with another three thousand passengers including Plaintiffs on February 21, 2020, knowing that some of those passengers and crew had already been exposed to COVID-19, the Defendant PRINCESS has exposed Plaintiffs to actual risk of immediate physical injury,” the suit claims.

Chalik alleges the cruise ship line kept the outbreaks quiet because it didn’t want to hurt profits.

“They’ve put profit over people,” he said. “They wanted to keep their ships moving.”

Responding to J.’s request for comment, Santa Clarita-based Princess Cruise Lines sent this message: “Our response throughout this process has focused on well-being our guests and crew within the parameters mandated on us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness.  We not been served with any lawsuit relating to this matter, and we will not comment on any pending litigation.”

The Chaliks are also representing another couple with two minor children on the same ship.

The Weissbergers expect to be tested for coronavirus today, Chalik said. But even if they test negative, he said, the experience has been terrible for the senior couple.

“All of the emotional distress of putting their lives at risk is something Princess should be responsible for,” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.