George Smith Family, Jennifer Hagel and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ltd., Reach a Final Settlement Agreement Arising Out of the Disappearance of George Smith

It is hard to believe that it has been since July of 2005 that George Smith was reported as missing during his honeymoon cruise with his wife, Jennifer. Since his disappearance, the FBI has been actively investigating the cause of his disappearance. There were many issues that surfaced following his disappearance regarding how the initial investigation was conducted by the cruise line. It has also been widely reported that the Smith family were at odds with Jennifer Hagel. It is was reported that Jennifer Hagel was critical of the parents of George Smith because Jennifer Hagel said that the parents never took into the possibility that George Smith’s disappearance could have been related to intoxication and taking prescription medications, not foul play.

From the beginning, the Smith family has suspected foul play which resulted in the disappearance of George Smith. Our firm represented the Smith family. We are very pleased to hear of the settlement agreement that the Smith family was able to reach after the case proceeded to the Probate Court in Connecticut following an initial settlement agreement that was obtained in the wrongful death case.

Once a settlement agreement was reached for the wrongful death, the Probate Court had jurisdiction to determine whether the settlement was a reasonable settlement. The Smith family openly criticized the initial settlement agreement. However, the Probate Judge ruled that the settlement was reasonable and approved the initial settlement agreement. The Smith family, through their probate attorneys in Connecticut, appealed the ruling of the Probate Court. Prior to any disposition on the ruling whether the Probate Court was correct in approving the settlement as being reasonable, a final settlement agreement was reached among the Smith Family, Jennifer Hagel and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Ltd.

While this may end any litigation against the cruise lines for the disappearance of George Smith, the Smith family has made it very clear they will continue in their relentless efforts to get answers to their questions and do justice on behalf of George.

Our wrongful death firm is proud of our contributions in getting this case the public attention, as well as the attention of our United States Congress, showing the need to evaluate the number of the disappearances and other criminal acts occurring aboard cruise ships, as well as the need to address the Maritime laws governing the major cruise ship operators.

As we have previously reported, legislation was passed as a result of the growing awareness by the public and our Congress regarding the amount of disappearances and criminal activities, and the lack of laws governing reporting and investigation of such incidents.

The legislation also provided for increased security aboard cruise ships, as well as requirements for better procedures when a sexual assault is reported aboard a cruise ship.

The George Smith disappearance also brings into play questions about the fairness of the Death on the High Seas Act, which is another law Congress is currently looking at changing. We have previously reported about efforts to amend the Death on the High Seas Act to eliminate the restrictions on the availability of non-economic damages in wrongful death cases governed by the Death on the High Seas Act. Since the disappearance of George Smith occurred while the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s cruiseship, Brilliance of the Seas, was travelling on the high seas, the case for the wrongful death of George Smith brought into play the Death on the High Seas Act, and the limitations on the recoverability of non-economic damages. This harsh restriction significantly reduces the recoverability of damages to the surviving spouse and family members of someone who dies.

During our representation of the Smith family, I appeared on numerous television shows and spoke before our United States Congress.

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I was very pleased with the interest the media and public had in the cruise ship industry. I realized that it was shocking to many people that incidents such as the disappearance of George Smith, are not rare incidents. I was also surprised that our United States Congress knew very little about how the cruise ship industry operated with respect to the investigation and reporting of serious crimes that occur aboard the cruise ships, as well as the fact that they were not well versed on the type of security measures that the cruise line company were implementing onboard their ships to protect the millions of passengers that travel on cruise ships yearly.

It was also at the time that we represented the Smith family that I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Kendall Carver, who is now the President of a great organization called the International Cruise Victims. Kendall Carver also lost a loved one aboard a cruise ship, his daughter, Merrian Carver. Merrian disappeared under very suspicious circumstances. Mr. Carver was denied critical information regarding the disappearance of his daughter. When I spoke at Congress, the members of the committee were appalled at how the cruise line had handled the disappearance of Mr. Carver’s daughter. It has been reported that he had to spend thousands of dollars of his own money to conduct his own investigation to learn about the fact that his daughter disappeared while on a cruise. Mr. Carver showed that he had been denied critical information from the time his daughter disappeared aboard the cruise ship. Mr. Carver, along with other victims, have faithfully worked together as members of the International Cruise Victims fighting for victims’ rights relating to cruise ship incidents. The organization has joined with other victims’ organizations, and has made a true difference with respect to awareness and safety relating to cruise ship incidents. I had the great pleasure of assisting Mr. Carver when he initially was involved informing the International Cruise Victims organization. I applaud their continued efforts for improved safety aboard cruise ships.

Of course, our prayers continue to be with the Smith family and their continued search for the answers they so deserve and the justice they are entitled to.

As for the wrongful death case arising out the disappearance of George Smith, the Smith family have always said such an action was not for the money, but instead was to find out what happened, to know the truth. It has also recently been announced that Michael Jackson’s mother and his three children filed a wrongful death case against AEG Live, who are the promoters who were organizing concerts for which he was rehearsing at the time he died. The lawyer for Michael Jackson’s family was quoted as saying “the purpose of this lawsuit is to prove to the world the truth about what happened to Michael Jackson, once and for all.”

Similarly, the Smith family have only been seeking answers as to the truth as to what happened to their son. Of course, not only is obtaining critical information an important aspect of a wrongful death lawsuit, but in addition the family members should receive complete justice, which means fair and adequate compensation. Many people cannot understand why one group of families would receive different rights to compensation when they lose their loved ones from another group of families. The best example is the eleven families of the workers that were killed in the BP Oil spill disasters who soon realized that their entitlement to compensation was different than other families who lost loved ones. This is because of the applicability of the Death on the High Seas Act, the archaic federal wrongful death law I have been discussing. In the following letter, consumer groups wrote the following to Congress last year regarding these archaic laws and the need for change:

Under current law, families are prohibited from recovering anything but pecuniary loss, such as lost income or wages, for those who are economically dependent upon the decedent. For example, one of the 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon, 24-year-old Adam Weise, is survived only by his mother, leaving behind no dependents. Under current law, his mother could recover no more than his funeral expenses as compensation for his death. A change in the law would make available to her and all the families compensation for lost care, comfort, and companionship, as well as pre-death pain and suffering. DOHSA was last amended by Congress in 2000 to provide these non-pecuniary damages in the event of a plane crash. HR 5503 would eradicate this inconsistency in the law, so that that all families of those killed on the high seas, whether on an oil rig or in a plane crash, are treated equally.

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