Hundreds of passengers and as many as 1,000 businesses who claim they suffered injuries and losses when the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground in Italy are suing cruise ship operator Carnival Corp in federal court. The shipwreck last January killed 32 people and left the ship lying on its side near Giglio Island off the Tuscan coast. It may be a tough legal battle. The plaintiffs contend that the Concordia’s owner, Costa Crociere of Genoa, Italy, answers to parent company Carnival and thus is responsible for the navigation errors that lead to the disaster. Carnival claims that Costa is an entirely separate company and it has no responsibility in this case. Deciding whether the lawsuit even belongs in a U.S. court will be the first issue.
The plaintiffs include people who were hurt in the grounding and Giglio Island businesses who say having a capsized cruise ship lying off their coast discouraged tourism, polluted sensitive waters and depressed property values. They join at least 155 other passengers, including some U.S. citizens who have filed suit against Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line. The newest suit claims Costa and Carnival could have trained their crews better and prohibited so-called “sail-by salutes,” in which the ship cruises close to shore to render honors to people and communities. The suit seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages.
The lawsuit hopes to bypass the notorious Italian courts. The Italian legal process creeps along, and cases can take years longer than in the United States. Second, Italy does not allow class action suits, so the case would have to be tried separately. Third, Italian law makes collecting damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering much harder. Fourth, Italian law does not allow lawyers to collect contingency fees, in which the attorney gets a portion of any verdict or settlement. Finally, passengers agreed as a condition of buying a ticket that any legal claims would be heard in Italian courts, and to overcome that the plaintiffs will have to persuade a U.S. judge that Costa and Carnival are the same corporate entity.
The lawsuits are still a long way from trial. A U.S. District Court is expected to rule soon on Carnival’s motion to dismiss all legal actions against it on the grounds that the case should be tried in Italy. Carnival also says that most of the evidence, witnesses and investigational reports are in Italy, so it makes sense to move the case there. Meanwhile, the ship itself lies on its side atop a reef. Salvagers expect to right it sometime in 2013. Next month the ship’s captain will face a hearing on potential criminal charges for his alleged negligence in steering the ship.
Source: The Associated Press, “US lawsuits target Carnival in Italy cruise crash,” Curt Anderson, Sep. 11, 2012