As Concordia rises from shallow grave, Carnival fights liability

Posted on behalf of The Bell Law Firm, PLLC on Nov 04, 2012 in Personal Injury

The Costa Concordia, the ship that sank off the coast of Italy in January, posed a unique challenge to salvagers, and not just a logistical challenge, either. The ship sits on its side on two undersea granite outcroppings, with a 160-foot gash in its 950-foot hull. While the removal of diesel fuel and oil from the ship earlier this year has made the salvage a little less risky, there was still one decision that had to be made.

It would be less expensive to take Concordia apart where it lies, but the option was ruled out. As workers pulled the ship apart, the contents of the ship would likely spill into the sea. The coastal waters are a fragile ecosystem, and the damage could be significant. More importantly, some of the debris would include personal effects of the 4,200 passengers and crew members on board when the ship went down. The image of vacationers' belongings spilling from the broken vessel would have been devastating for survivors, local witnesses and the cruise industry.

The company opted to refloat the ship and tow it to a shipyard. There, salvage teams can go about dismantling the ship with more care and more attention to what remains inside. It is an enormous undertaking, involving 450 workers and costing an estimated $400 million.

One question that personal injury attorney s are asking is whether Carnival Corp., the parent company of Italy-based Costa Crociere, will be paying for all or part of the salvage operation. Carnival has maintained in multiple court filings that Costa is a separate corporate entity and, therefore, Carnival has no responsibility to the plaintiffs and bears no liability for the fatal accident .

Plaintiffs' attorneys have countered that the two companies share top executives, have the same board of directors and, according to Carnival's own court filings, "operate as a single economic enterprise." Further, Costa Crociere may be an Italian business, but U.S.-based Costa Cruise Lines Inc. issued the press statements after the accident.

There are a number of reasons that plaintiffs would prefer to have the cases heard in the U.S. 

Pursuing their claims against Costa would mean filing in Italian courts, and that could mean years of litigation. It could preclude emotional distress claims, because damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress are almost impossible to collect there, as well.

That isn't the only barrier, though. 

Plaintiffs' hands will be tied in many ways if their cases are heard in Italy. Damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering there are extremely difficult to get. Nor does Italy allow contingency fee arrangements. Plaintiffs would have to pay for legal services and fees regardless of how their suits played out -- and corporations have deep pockets that make it easier to drag out the discovery process and to pile on expenses.

Shops, restaurants and other businesses along the coast have suffered since the disaster, too. Some have lost more than others, and the total loss may look small to a large corporation but actually has quite an impact on the business' bottom line. One of the most efficient ways for the businesses to recover those losses is to file a class action claim against the cruise line. The problem is that Italian courts do not allow class actions.

In addition to arguing that Costa is a separate company from Carnival, attorneys for the corporations argue that the records from the police investigation as well as other materials pertinent to the accident, not to mention witnesses, are in Italy, not the U.S. As a result, they say, Italy would be the more logical forum.

The legal questions will take some time to answer. Perhaps by that time, the Concordia herself will be a thing of the past, broken up for scrap in a distant shipyard.

Sources:

Insurance Journal, "U.S. Lawsuits Target Carnival in Italy Cruise Crash," Curt Anderson, Sept. 13, 2012

The Telegraph, "Raising the Concordia - the biggest marine salvage operation ever," Oct. 27, 2012

Our firm helps people who have suffered an injury as a result of a company's or its employees' negligence, like the victims of the Costa Concordia discussed in this post. If you are interested in learning more about our Charleston, West Virginia, practice , please visit our personal injury page.

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