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Rusty Hardin & Associates Wins Appeal in COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Princess Cruise Lines 

Rusty Hardin & Associates has won an appeal on behalf of a Texas woman, overturning a trial court’s dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. in the COVID-19 exposure and death of the woman’s husband. The reversal means the cruise line must now face trial in the case.  

Susan Dorety of Crowley, Texas sued the cruise line in April 2020, claiming it knowingly allowed her and her husband, Michael Dorety, to be exposed to the virus when they boarded the ship on Feb. 21, 2020. Mr. Dorety fell ill and died several days later in a California hospital. 

A U.S. district court in California had dismissed the case, concluding that the Death on the High Seas Act preempted her claims because Mr. Dorety, a retired firefighter, likely contracted COVID-19 when the ship was several miles outside U.S. waters. 

But on Nov. 13, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed, ruling that the lower court erred in its decision and concluding that Princess Cruises failed to show adequate proof that Mr. Dorety contracted the virus outside U.S. waters. 

In its decision, the three-judge panel wrote, “The district court erroneously concluded that Princess met its burden to show Mr. Dorety more likely than not contracted COVID-19 on the high seas. The district court looked to only two categories of evidence: evidence about Mr. Dorety’s symptoms and the average COVID-19 incubation period, and evidence about possible sites of exposure. This analysis failed to account for symptoms other than fever. Ms. Dorety’s testimony and that of Mr. Dorety’s treating physicians showed that Mr. Dorety had symptoms of loss of appetite, fatigue, trouble breathing, and a cough – all present before the fever developed, and all known symptoms of COVID-19.”  

The judges went on to say that because Princess failed to meet its burden of proof, it was reversing the lower court’s decision and remanding the case for trial. 

The Rusty Hardin & Associates trial team representing Mrs. Dorety includes partners Rusty Hardin, Daniel Dutko, Leah Graham, and Ryan Higgins 

The case is Susan Dorety v. Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., No. 22-55378 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

Click to read Law360’s article “9th Circ. Says Princess Cruises Must Face Widow’s Virus Suit.”