Some recently interesting developments in the maritime law field.
It was reported that there was a large settlement reached in the case involving a Philadelphia duck boat that was involved in a collision in the Delaware River. The collision caused the boat to sink in the year 2010, killing two Hungarian students who drowned when the amphibious watercraft sank after being struck by a 250-foot barge that was being pushed by a tugboat. The case was pending in a federal court where the owners of the vessels were seeking to take advantage of an outdated and harsh maritime law called Limitation of Liability. The owners of the vessels were seeking to limit their exposure to the value of the vessels after the collision, which was reported to be approximately $1.8 million. However, the settlement is reported to have been $17 million.
The Limitation of Liability law was enacted more than 150 years ago, and remains part of the maritime law of the United States. This federal statute simply has no place in today’s maritime world. The Limitation of Liability Act (LOLA) was brought into focus after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion incident that killed nine maritime workers. This ancient and archaic law allows the vessels to limit their liability to the post-voyage value of their vessel. Transocean was relying on LOLA to limits its liability for the Deepwater disaster to $27 million.
In the case involving the duck boat, the amphibious vessel was plowed over by a 250-foot barge being pushed by a tugboat in Philadelphia, and the owners were trying to limit their liability to $1.7 million.
The application of the Limitation of Liability Act results in harsh consequences, and hopefully our Congress will recognize this at some point in time.
In other news, a lawsuit was filed in New York on behalf of the families of Hungarian crewmembers who had died aboard the Costa Concordia. A $200 million lawsuit was filed in a New York federal court on behalf of four Hungarian musicians and dancers. The lawsuit was filed on May 3rd, and states that violinist Sandor Feher drowned after he tried to help children put on life jackets. He was one of the 32 people reported to have died when the ship capsized off the coast of Italy.
The lawsuit in New York names Carnival Corporation as one of the defendants in the case. Much has been reported about the Costa Concordia disaster, and who the proper defendants will be in this lawsuit. The Costa Concordia was owned and operated by Costa Cruises, an Italian corporation. Carnival Corporation is the parent company of Costa Cruises. However, the parent company is typically not liable for the actions of its subsidiary unless one can prove that the corporations were not operated as separate entities, and that the parent company was so intertwined with the operations of the subsidiary company that it should be treated as one and the same. This appears unlikely to be the case with Carnival Corporation and Costa Cruises. Is there an independent basis for liability against Carnival Corporation? Some lawsuits have been filed, already claiming Carnival Corporation has independent liability for failure to adopt and implement appropriate policies and procedures aboard the cruise ships in their fleet, including within the fleet of their subsidiaries. Again, whether this is a viable legal theory against Carnival Corporation remains to be seen.
In addition, many cases against Costa Concordia face the passenger ticket provision requiring all lawsuits to be filed in Italy. These forum selection clauses in passenger contracts are routinely enforced. In addition, there are defenses to the lawsuit being pursued in the United States, including forum non-conveniens, claiming that Italy is the appropriate forum because that is where the incident occurred, the investigations, and all of the material witnesses are located.
A previous lawsuit was filed in Miami seeking more than $500 million in damages on behalf of dozens of passengers from the Costa Concordia. It’s interesting to note that the lawsuit that was filed in Miami does not appear to have progressed very far in the court at this time. At last check, the lawsuit was not responded to by the defendants. It is not clear whether lawsuit was actually served on the defendants or simply filed. However, no motion or other responses to the complaint were found when checking the index to the court file.
In other cruise ship news, a lawsuit was filed against Princess Cruise Lines based on the story we previously reported on, where a Princess cruise ship sailed by a disabled Panamanian fishing boat and failed to provide any assistance to the boaters who were in distress. Two fishermen died. The sole survivor who watched the Star Princess plow on without providing any assistance has filed a lawsuit against Princess, alleging that Princess was negligent and/or reckless in failing to provide assistance to the three boaters who were in distress. One of the boaters, age 16, died as the Star Princess sailed away, hours after the Star Princess could have provided assistance. Another boater lingered on and suffered for another five days before dying. The survivor, Adrian Vasquez, 18-years-old, suffered not only the physical ailments and torture of the remaining days he was clinging to his own life, watching a large cruise ship sail by without providing assistance, but also had to endure watching his friends suffering and dying in front of his eyes.
In another case that was filed in Houston against Carnival Cruise Line, a passenger is reported to have bled to death onboard a Carnival cruise ship after cutting herself on a piece of glass that severed an artery. The family has filed a wrongful death action against the cruise line, alleging that the cruise ship personnel unduly delayed appropriate medical care and attention, causing the death.
One must know when going onboard a cruise ship that the cruise ship medical personnel may not be able to appropriately respond to an emergency. Although the cruise ship companies have stated that they are following emergency standards and guidelines of the American College of Emergency Physicians, my office handles cases regarding the failure of a passenger to receive appropriate medical care and attention, and many times the medical personnel are not competent to follow these standards. We are currently representing a family who had their infant onboard a cruise ship who became severely ill, and did not receive appropriate medical care and attention onboard the ship. As a result, the infant died in front of her parents’ eyes. The lawsuit against the cruise ship company alleges that the doctors were incompetent to provide the necessary medical care and treatment to the infant. The parents believed the doctors, and relied on the representations that the doctors were in fact qualified to provide the necessary medical care and treatment.
This is not an uncommon experience, that is, hearing about a passenger who did not receive appropriate emergency medical care and attention onboard a cruise ship. One must be aware of this potential problem. If one has any medical issues that may present a problem during a cruise that could require any type of specialized medical care and treatment, one should avoid going on a cruise. One should inquire within the cruise line company as to the qualifications of the medical personnel that will be onboard the ship. Also keep in mind that the cruise ship medical personnel onboard ships do have access to shore side medical personnel to provide guidance and advice when treating an emergency medical care situation. However, the medical personnel do not always promptly take advantage of this service. If one is in need of emergency medical care and treatment, they should insist that contact be immediately made to the shore side medical personnel so that emergency medical services can immediately get involved in providing assisting for adequately diagnosing and treating the condition.
Finally, it was reported that French survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster received a settlement from Costa Cruises. It was reported that the owner of the Costa Concordia has paid more than 2 million Euros to the French survivors in a settlement that was reached, as announced by their lawyer. The amount reported is the equivalent of $11,700.00 U.S. dollars each to 235 survivors. As we reported, 32 people are reported to have been killed when the Costa Concordia capsized on January 13, 2012. The recent settlement agreed to by the 235 remaining French survivors was paid on May 4th according to reports. In the meantime, the criminal prosecution in Italy is still going forward, and includes the captain and three executives.
Our Miami maritime law firm will continue to report on developments in the cruise ship and maritime industry. Our maritime lawyers here in Miami, Florida continue to act as safety advocates for all those harmed at sea.