Cruise line makes offer, gets sued, waits

The cruise line that owns Costa Concordia is trying to move forward, past recovery and initial assistance efforts to make an offer to non-injured passengers. Still without conclusive forensic reasons or blame placed for the tragic grounding of January 13, Costa Cruises faces legal action as it and the entire cruise industry review safety standards.

The families of those who died, passengers that were injured and crew members will be handled on a case by case basis. For everyone else, the line is offering:

  • A lump sum of 11,000 euros (about $14,500) per person as indemnification, covering all patrimonial and nonpatrimonial damages, including loss of baggage and personal effects, psychological distress and loss of enjoyment of the cruise vacation;
  • Reimbursement of the value of the cruise, including harbor taxes;
  • Reimbursement of air and bus transfers included in the cruise package
  • Full reimbursement of travel expenses to reach the port of embarkation and return home;
  • Reimbursement of any medical expenses resulting from the cruise;
  • Reimbursement of expenses incurred on board during the cruise.

Almost simultaneously, crew member Gary Lobaton off Costa Concordia has filed a complaint in the federal court of Chicago seeking class-action status in a $multi-million lawsuit.

“The defendants failed to properly and timely notify all plaintiffs on board of the deadly and dangerous condition of the cruise ship as to avoid injury and death,” Lobaton said in the complaint. The passengers and crew “were abandoned by the captain.”

Meanwhile, Fox News reports six passengers off the stricken cruise ship filed a complaint against Carnival Corporation, parent company of ship owner Costa Cruises, in a Miami court demanding $460 million in compensation.

Maritime law experts say such actions probably won’t go far. Similar attempts to sue in the U.S. have been turned away by the U.S. Supreme Court and the expense of filing in a foreign court is often too great. Between the liability limitation clauses of the passenger contract cruise travelers agree to by booking passage on a cruise ship and the nearly-exempt status of foreign flagged cruise ships, cruise lines have themselves covered.

“It’s well-settled law,” said Jerry Hamilton, a maritime attorney who regularly defends cruise lines against lawsuits in STLToday. “The Supreme Court has said those clauses are valid clauses. They will be upheld.”

Still, the cruise industry moves on and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade group that represents the interests of 26 member lines, announced a global safety review in answer to questions raised by the Costa Concordia grounding.

Key components of the Review include:

  1. An internal review by CLIA members of their own operational safety practices and procedures concerning issues of navigation, evacuation, emergency training, and related practices and procedures.
  2. Consultation with independent external experts.
  3. Identification and sharing of industry best practices and policies, as well as possible recommendations to the IMO for substantive regulatory changes to further improve the industry’s operational safety.
  4. Collaboration with the IMO, governments and regulatory bodies to implement any necessary regulatory changes.

“While the cruise industry has an outstanding safety record, CLIA is fully committed to understanding the factors that contributed to the Concordia incident and is proactively responding to all maritime safety issues,” the organization said in a statement, adding “The Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review will enable the industry to do so in a meaningful and expedited manner.”

How this story ends, how much compensation will be given or awarded, will have a lot to do with conclusive results of investigations underway involving the captain of the ship and black box evidence of what really happened.

For now, concerned parties wait while preliminary operations to pump fuel out of the cruise ship were suspended Saturday due to bad weather. Workers decided the sea was too rough to continue the salvage operation.

Flickr photo by Cyr0z