Student Blawg: The Costa Concordia

By: An Anonymous Student

During the night of January 13, 2012, the 955-foot Italian-flagged COSTA CONCORDIA struck rocks and capsized near the coast of Giglio, Italy, resulting in evacuation of the 4,252 people on board. Thirty-two people are known to have died during this tragic event, others were injured and two are still missing.

This tragedy raises a number of issues including cruise ship safety and the rights of cruise ship passengers, particularly pertaining to the matter of legal jurisdiction. A cruise ship ticket is also known as a “cruise ticket contract.” By purchasing the ticket, a passenger arguably enters a contract and agrees to its conditions, which include a series of limitations and waivers in case of dispute. Two clauses of concern on the Costa Concordia ticket address the jurisdiction and which laws apply for possible legal claims against the company. The “forum selection” clause stipulates the specific court in which a plaintiff may file a claim against Costa. The “choice of law” clause is where Costa names which country’s laws will apply to that claim. Despite the fact that the cruise ship has its headquarters in Miami, FL, the forum is in Italy and the choice of law is Italian law. According to Beard Stacey and Jacobsen, LLP, maritime injury law firm in Washington, this clause gives the passengers a huge disadvantage of bringing their lawsuits in Italy versus the US where it is typically easier to recover damages for pain and sufferings. Time limits on legal notices and actions are stated on the contract, and there is also a clause in the Costa contract barring the filing of a class action lawsuit.

At last report, Costa Concordia has said it will reimburse passengers for travel expenses and medical expenses. The company is also offering uninjured passengers about $14,460 each to compensate for lost luggage and psychological trauma. It is obvious that not all the passengers agree that this amount is sufficient to cover the terrifying experience of being on a sinking ship. Costa plans to address compensation to those with physical injuries and to the families of those who died on an individual basis. The Costa ticket contains a clause limiting its liability for the death or injury of a passenger to about $71,000, although that doesn’t apply in cases of recklessness and some legal experts say it could be successfully challenged.

Despite the terms on the Costa cruise ticket contract, lawsuits, including class action suits, by U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries are being filed in Florida and other states. The families of those who lost their lives fear that Italian law and courts will not appropriately address their losses. It is unclear whether the Florida court will keep the case or uphold the forum selection clause in favor of the Italian court. Even if the Florida court finds a way to keep the case on jurisdictional grounds, it may still uphold the choice of law clause stated in the cruise ticket contract. In such a case, damages would be governed by Italian law.

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