A Cruise Ship Law Update

A private tribute this past Monday, February 13, marked the one month anniversary of the Costa disaster. The relatives of those still missing from the Costa Concordia cruise ship tossed bouquets of red roses into the sea in their honor. A small boat took the family members 50 yards from the overturned cruise ship. Fifteen people still remain unaccounted for. Among the relatives that visited the site was Kevin Rebello whose brother was a waiter aboard the ship.

“I haven’t lost hope yet, anything can still happen, a miracle. He may be injured, he may have lost consciousness, anything may have happened. I still have hope, I always have hope, hope is the last thing to die,” Rebello said. “I hope I will find him as soon as possible, to bring him home.”

Costa CEO and chairman Pier Luigi attended the mass at the Saints Lorenzo and Mamiliano Church at Giglio Island. At the mass, the Reverend Lorenzo Pasquotti sadly stated: “The feeling that has always been with me during these 30 days and today is sorrow. Sorrow for those who died, for those who are missing.”

costa ceo.jpgIn addition, Sunday was the day that the passengers had to decide whether to accept the $14,463 as a settlement offer. Unexpectedly, the Costa Cruises announced that they would extend the deadline to March 31, giving passengers more time to evaluate their desired approach: “The decision was taken to offer passengers more time to evaluate the proposal and to exercise their claims with less urgency.”

In the meantime, litigation has commenced in Miami, Florida. The lawyers who have filed the lawsuit have backed off from earlier statements that a class action was going to be pursued. Most likely, the lawyers realized that the passenger tickets have a provision precluding class action lawsuits. Although the enforceability of this particular provision in a cruise ship case setting has not been ruled upon by the appellate courts, the Supreme Court of the United States recently upheld a ban on class action lawsuits contained in consumer contracts with AT&T. In addition, the provisions in passenger tickets issued by cruise ship companies have routinely been enforced, such as the provision requiring any lawsuit to be filed in a specific location. In the case of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship company, Costa, requires lawsuits to be filed in Genoa, Italy. Of course, the cruise lines will seek to enforce this provision and have the lawsuit that has been filed in Miami dismissed.

Those who accept the offer of compensation that has been made by Costa would give up their right to sue the cruise ship company. If the case is dismissed from the Miami court, and passengers are required to sue in Italy, many United States passengers may find the offer by Costa acceptable.

The current settlement for the surviving passengers includes the loss of personal belongings, as well as any psychological damage they may have incurred from the crash. This offer does not extend to those who were injured or killed from the disaster. If a passenger has suffered psychological damages that require counseling, a significantly higher amount should be awarded. As it stands now, the current offer is very low, but must be weighed against the time and expense in litigating against the cruise ship company, especially if the case is sent to Italy.

The benefits of class actions are to make sure that a company is held accountable for all damages, large or small. Oftentimes, individual claims are not economically feasible to pursue, although they are deserving of compensation. A class action pools all claims together so that the company has to compensate each and every individual. However, as stated, it does not appear a class action lawsuit will be able to be maintained against Costa here in the United States.

The lawsuit filed in Miami includes Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Costa. Again, this is a matter that will be addressed by the court since the owner and operator of the Costa Concordia is Costa, not Carnival. It is difficult to hold a parent corporation liable for the actions of its subsidiary, especially when they maintain separate bases of operations.

The amended lawsuit filed in Miami passengers states plaintiffs are seeking$528 million dollars.

The lawsuit filed in Miami alleges that the crew failed to conduct safety drills, that the ship was off course when it hit the reef, that the captain waited too long before giving the order to evacuate, that the crew performed badly during the evacuation and that the cruise line inflicted emotional distress and failed to provide prompt and adequate aid to survivors.

In addition to the news about the lawsuit filed, and the extension on the offer to passengers, on Sunday, the Miami Herald posted a very interesting article titled “Venice rebels against cruise ship intrusions.” Venice, Italy serves as a remarkable site for cruisers aboard a ship. Venice is already a “fragile city struggling against mass tourism and a steady deterioration of its underwater foundations.”

The news article says Costa Concordia disaster has caused a reevaluation to take place with respect to cruise ship routes. The Costa Concordia was recklessly navigated close to the shore, which caused this disaster. From reports of what the captain has said, as well as others, it appears to be a fairly common practice to navigate these mega cruise ships close to land to show off the ship, and add to the marketing efforts of the cruise ship companies. This has been done with a disregard to safety issues, including environmental issues. It is an example how profits over safety drives decisions in the corporate world.

Venice, which serves as a major destination, wants cruise ships to change their route through their beautiful city not only because of potential accidents like the Costa Concordia disaster , but because air and water pollution issues. Recently, there was litigation in Charleston, South Carolina, a historic place, involving complaints about the presence of cruise ships. As the cruise ships have grown to be known as mega cruise ships, and as they continue to grow, I expect more and more issues involving passenger safety and environmental concerns, to surface.

The Miami based maritime lawyers at Rivkind and Margulies,P.A. continue to report on cruise ship and boat law and news, and our firm represents passengers and crewmembers in all type of maritime accidents. We are currently assisting passengers and crewmembers who were onboard the Costa Concordia.

Picture credit: SRNNews.com