Wife of retired Dallas firefighter who died from COVID-19 sues cruise line

Retired Dallas Firefighter Michael Dorety and his wife Susan were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary on the Grand Princess when they both contracted COVID-19


Kevin Krause
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Susan and Michael Dorety boarded the Grand Princess cruise ship in February in San Francisco to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

Weeks later, Michael, a retired Dallas firefighter, died alone from COVID-19 in a California hospital room after becoming infected on the ship.

In this March 15, 2020, file photo, the Grand Princess cruise ship is shown docked at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Two passengers, including retired Dallas Firefighter Michael Dorety, and a crew member on board the ship have died from COVID-19, while at least 103 tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
In this March 15, 2020, file photo, the Grand Princess cruise ship is shown docked at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Two passengers, including retired Dallas Firefighter Michael Dorety, and a crew member on board the ship have died from COVID-19, while at least 103 tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against Princess Cruise Lines, Susan Dorety said the company did not warn the couple of an outbreak on board the ship that sickened passengers during the previous voyage. The couple, who were in an age group most susceptible to the disease, both contracted COVID-19, the lawsuit said.

“This cruise line company put money ahead of its passengers’ well-being, and it cost Michael Dorety his life,” said Susan’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, in a statement.

Four days after the Doretys boarded, the cruise line warned its previous passengers via email that they had been exposed, the lawsuit said. Some later died from the coronavirus, according to the suit.

But the Crowley couple never knew it. And their captain waited almost two weeks to order all passengers to be quarantined in their cabins, she said in the lawsuit. By then it was too late.

As a feverish Michael Dorety, 68, shivered under his bed covers, greatly weakened by infection, the ship’s crew ignored Susan’s calls for help and would not allow them to leave to seek medical attention, the suit said.

When Michael was finally allowed off the ship, he was just days away from taking his final breath in a hospital room on March 20, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, seeks damages for negligence and other claims. The case highlights difficulties cruise lines have had in managing coronavirus outbreaks aboard their ships, some of which were turned away from various ports and left to flounder at sea as “ghost ships.”

Princess, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., issued the following statement in response to a request for comment:

“Princess Cruises has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew. Our response throughout this process has focused on the well-being of our guests and crew within the parameters dictated to us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness. We do not comment on any pending litigation.”

Princess Cruises, owned by Carnival Corp., said on Tuesday that it’s canceling all voyages through late June after receiving a “no sail order” from U.S. health officials. All three of its ships were ravaged by coronavirus infections.

It is not alone. The cruise industry has been hammered by coronavirus outbreaks. Hundreds of passengers and crew members have contracted COVID-19 on board ships during the pandemic, and many others have died.

The lawsuit is one of many filed against Princess Cruises across the nation for similar claims. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that more than 800 people who traveled on two of its ships — the Grand Princess and the Diamond Princess — tested positive for the coronavirus, and 10 others have died from the disease.

Falling in love

The Doretys boarded the ship in San Francisco on Feb. 21 to celebrate their 40th year of marriage. About a week later, the U.S. recorded its first coronavirus death, in Washington state.

They both grew up in Irving and met when he was a Dallas firefighter and she worked at a bank. They fell in love, married and raised two children together. Michael, a former U.S. Marine, retired from the Dallas Fire Department in 2010 after fighting fires for 39 years.

The couple didn’t know that at least two passengers on the prior Grand Princess voyage had experienced COVID-19 symptoms, or that 62 others from that same cruise had remained on board with them even though they had been exposed, the lawsuit says.

The Doretys and other new passengers were asked to fill out a piece of paper confirming that they were not sick. None were questioned or examined, the lawsuit said.

After several days at sea, the ship’s crew ended the buffets and removed all salt and pepper shakers, the suit said. The employees were required to wear gloves, but shows and “community events” like bingo continued as planned. The shows were eventually canceled and the more than 2,400 passengers were ordered to their cabins along with staff.

“It is shocking to me that a cruise line that had just discharged coronavirus-infected passengers took on board a new group of passengers to then mingle with others who had been exposed,” Hardin said in the statement. “Princess had notice of the dangers. The Doretys did not.”

Passengers still were not alerted even after a crew member with COVID-19 symptoms left the ship in Honolulu, Hawaii, the first port of call, the lawsuit said.

Hardin said Susan and her husband “would have disembarked there had they known about the risks to their health.”

‘Suffering in agony’

Michael became sick after the Grand Princess docked off the coast of San Francisco in early March due to the COVID-19 outbreak on board, the lawsuit said.

He and Susan waited anxiously inside their cabin during the quarantine for about a week. Susan called the ship’s emergency line multiple times without a response when her husband’s health deteriorated, the suit said. Michael could not get out of bed, and he shivered and sweated under the covers.

A ship’s doctor responded eventually and gave Michael some Tylenol and Tamiflu after confirming he had a fever, the suit said. His wife said they were not told they could leave the ship to seek medical treatment.

Michael became unresponsive, and Susan finally managed to convince Princess to let them off the ship to see CDC medical staff who were on the dock, according to the lawsuit.

“When she finally got Michael Dorety off the ship, almost three days after his symptoms developed, the CDC looked at him alarmed and asked why she did not bring him sooner,” the lawsuit said.

Michael was taken immediately to an Oakland hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19 and “spent days suffering in agony.” Medical staff struggled to keep him alive. A doctor called Susan to tell her that her husband would not make it.

“Susan Dorety and her children listened as the doctor counted down Michael Dorety’s heartbeats until he was gone,” the lawsuit said. “Michael Dorety died alone.”

The lawsuit said Princess knew at the time the extent of the dangers associated with the coronavirus.

Another of its cruise ships, the Diamond Princess, also had an outbreak of the disease in early February 2020 while docked in Yokohama, Japan, according to the lawsuit. It began with 10 cases and quickly grew to 700 due to a “flawed two-week quarantine on the ship.” Seven of those passengers died from COVID-19, the lawsuit said.

The CDC issued a statement on Feb. 18, saying the rate of infection on board, particularly among those without symptoms, “highlights the high burden of infection on the ship and potential for ongoing risk,” the lawsuit said.

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©2020 The Dallas Morning News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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