Athens Convention: Cruise Operator not liable for Passenger’s Campylobacter Infection

On the 10th day of a two-week Caribbean cruise in February 2020, a passenger fell ill with a gastrointestinal infection caused by the pathogen campylobacter. The court of first instance found that there had been no accumulation of such infections on board during the cruise and that all hygiene rules had been observed in the catering area. Campylobacter infections in humans are usually food-associated and the court of first instance considered an infection of the passengers on the cruise ship to be quite probable.

The court of first instance awarded a price reduction, damages for pain and suffering and compensation for lost holiday enjoyment for the impairment of the cruise due to the infection. The Commercial Court of Vienna granted the cruise operator’s appeal: Firstly, the standard standard of proof in the ZPO was a high degree of probability, so that the evidence of causality had not been provided on the basis of the mere simple probability established by the court of first instance. Secondly, the liability of the cruise operator was to be examined according to Art 3 of the Athens Convention 2002 and therefore required (in the absence of a shipping event causing the damage) a fault to be proven by the plaintiff, which was lacking due to the established compliance with all hygiene rules (HG Wien 17.02.2022, 60 R 136/21m).

Although the cruise market has experienced a real boom in recent years (at least before Corona), court decisions on liability for the carriage of passengers by sea under the Athens Convention are rare. The ruling that a claim for price reduction in the event of illness is also subject to the conditions and limitations of the Athens Convention is therefore a valuable clarification for the industry.

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