In the immediate aftermath of the Costa Concordia disaster, the world watched as divers searched fruitlessly for survivors in the part-sunken cruise ship. When the search period ended, though, news began to emerge of the financial implications for the cruise lines responsible for the ship. Mandy Aitchison has the details of several lawsuits that have been filed against Carnival Cruise Lines and its subsidiary Costa Crociere
It has been confirmed that Italian consumer association Codacons is one organisation that is filing a lawsuit against Costa Cruises on behalf of the passengers of the Costa Concordia. In addition, there are two US-based law firms that have also confirmed their intention to file a class-action lawsuit in the US, with the aim of securing hundreds of thousands of dollars for each passenger onboard the stricken vessel. Mitchell Proner, a lawyer with one of the US firms, Proner & Proner, said: “Along with Codacons, we have formed an association and our firms are collectively going to be filing a suit in Miami … on behalf of all the victims of the Costa Concordia disaster.” Proner said that his firm would be seeking compensation from the cruise line for continued medical care, loss of earnings and psychological impact. He told the BBC that he had 110 claimants.
Proner & Proner is said to be working with New York-based Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, which is well known for securing compensation for workers who suffered health problems after working at Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Proner said the coalition of international lawyers collectively represented 500 clients, including passengers from Croatia, Brazil, Russia, France, Germany and the Dominican Republic. In an interesting twist, he also reported that one of his clients, who happened to speak both Italian and English, has claimed that different instructions were given in different languages. In English, passengers were supposedly told to go back to their cabins, whereas the Italian instruction told them to board the lifeboats.
It was reported that the suit begun by Proner & Proner is seeking US$10 million in personal damages and $450 million in punitive damages of behalf of passengers. Marco Ramadoria, president of Codacons, said that offers of compensation from the cruise line had been insufficient: “They are offering to refund the cost of the ticket as if you had missed a plane and lost your luggage. You cannot compare the two.” Costa was originally offering passengers €11,000 each in compensation for their traumatic experience, which Codacons has urged passengers not to accept. Costa’s offer was the result of negotiations with other consumer groups, who claim to be representing the 3,206 passengers who did not suffer any physical harm as a result of the disaster.
On 14 February, it was confirmed that 39 passengers from the Costa Concordia had filed suit against Carnival Cruise Lines Inc. and Costa Cruise Lines, and were seeking $78 million in punitive damages. Marc Bern, a lawyer representing the group of passengers, said the defendants ‘acted in a severely reckless and wilful, wanton manner, with complete disregard for the safety, lives and well-being of the plaintiffs’. Agence France Presse reported that the 39 plaintiffs included passengers from the US, Italy, Germany, Canada, South Korea and China.
UK-based law firm Irwin Mitchell confirmed that it is leading a team of 12 lawyers who are advising a ‘growing list’ of survivors of the disaster, with the firm’s branches in Spain and Italy handling enquiries as well as that in the UK. Cilve Garner, the firm’s head of travel litigation, said: “Collectively, we are dealing with dozens of clients, and the number of inquires is climbing all the time. I suspect they might rise substantially in the coming week.” He added: “With thousands of people onboard this huge vessel, the safety of the passengers should have been the first and only priority. Tragically, our clients confirm that this was not the case and passengers and their families have paid a very high price. The running aground of the Costa Concordia was terrible enough, but this was compounded by the woeful management of the evacuation of the vessel.”
In response to the notification of the class action suits, Costa stated: “The company understands those concerns and will respond in due course, but for now, it wants to concentrate on dealing with the immediate tragedy. As an initial gesture, it has already sent letters to all those passengers onboard asking them to detail their expenses and any costs they might have incurred so reimbursements can be made.” The company gave passengers a deadline of 31 March to accept the offer of compensation.
There are disagreements currently as to whether or not the US class action suits could be brought against Costa Cruises, as it has been reported that when buying a cruise from Costa, customers are asked to sign a waiver that states that any litigation resulting from the cruise would have to be pursued in Italy. Proner believes, though, that this rule could be circumvented: “The US has a long tradition of protecting rights, and not only is Costa owned by an American company, but they have brought themselves into our stream of commerce. There were 120 Americans onboard, and they will demand access to their rights.”
In the wake of the Concordia tragedy, the three major organisations representing cruise lines – Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – agreed that every passenger who boards a cruise ship would be given a mandatory safety briefing, including details on evacuation procedures, before the ship leaves port. CLIA added that a muster drill must also take place immediately, rather than within 24 hours of leaving port, as is currently the case. The statement from CLIA read: “Current legal requirements for conducting a muster of passengers are found in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and mandate that a muster for embarking passengers occur within 24 hours of their embarkation. Notwithstanding the legal requirement, CLIA’s member cruise lines have identified a best practice effective immediately that calls for conducting the mandatory muster for embarking passengers prior to departure from port. On occasions when guests arrive after the muster has been completed, CLIA’s policy is that they be promptly provided with individual or group safety briefings that meet the requirements for musters applicable under SOLAS. This practice exceeds existing legal requirements and has been adopted by CLIA’s membership as a formal policy to help ensure that any mandatory musters or briefings are conducted for the benefit of all newly embarked passengers at the earliest practical opportunity.”
Meanwhile, US-based Travel Guard recently polled travel agents in the country to gauge the effects of the Costa Concordia disaster on the number of people planning to take cruise holidays this year. The survey showed that 46 per cent of agents believe the incident will not drastically affect the number of cruise bookings, and just seven per cent said that fewer people would want to book a cruise as a result. Forty-seven per cent of agents believe that avid cruisers will continue with their planned holidays, but people who have not cruised before would strongly consider other types of holiday before choosing a cruise. For readers of ITIJ, the good news to emerge from the survey is that 37 per cent of those polled believe that people who do decide to go on a cruise will be more likely to buy travel insurance as a result of the disaster. Eighty-eight per cent of agents, though, said that an unforeseen illness is still the main reason why clients should purchase insurance for their trip.