With the recent Costa Concordia disaster, resulting in 17 known deaths, the spotlight has again been placed on the cruise ship industry regarding safety issues. Over the years, our firm has been reporting on the increased number of disappearances of passengers or crewmembers, or situations involving passengers or crewmembers going overboard. The spotlight was placed on the cruise ship industry following the disappearance of George Smith who is suspected to have been a victim of foul play onboard a passenger cruise ship.
As a cruise ship attorney for almost 30 years, I have seen an increased number of criminal activities occurring aboard cruise ships, along with an increase in the number of serious accidents.
In the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, there have been two more deaths occur aboard a cruise ship within the span of a few days.
On Friday, it was reported that a 26-year-old man fell and died aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines passenger cruise ship, the Fantasy. He was reported to have fallen from an upper level of the ship to the lobby level.
On Monday, a 47-year-old female passenger on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Liberty of the Seas died when she fell down a flight of stairs on the ship. Although an initial characterization is made that she missed a step and fell, there are questions arising as to the responses by the medical personnel to her injuries. It will need to be determined whether there was an appropriate emergency response to the medical situation, and whether the failure to receive appropriate medical attention played any part in the death. It will also need to be determined whether the passenger slipped and fell due to any design defects of the stairs, including whether the stairs were unreasonably slippery for a public staircase frequently trafficked by the passengers. Often times, slip and fall accidents aboard the cruise ships are related to some type of design defect in the stairs. The types of design defects that potentially make the stairs unsafe are numerous. This will require an evaluation by an appropriate expert to determine the safety of the stairs. More facts and circumstances will need to be developed to determine the cause of this tragic accident.
As in all of the passenger cases, especially in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster, anyone bringing a claim for an injury or death to passenger will soon learn about the passenger tickets that are issued which contain significant limitations on the right to bring a lawsuit. These limitations include the location where a lawsuit must be filed. The passenger ticket also contains a time limitation to give notice to the cruise ship company of the claim, and a time limitation in which to file the lawsuit. Many attorneys who are not cruise ship attorneys have mistakenly believed that cases arising from the Costa Concordia must be filed in Broward County, Florida against Costa Cruise Lines. However, the passenger tickets that apply to the Costa Concordia are different than the passenger tickets that are issued to passengers cruising onboard a Costa Cruise Lines cruise ship which sails to or from a United States port. In the case of the Costa Concordia, which never touched a United States port, the passenger ticket has what is called a forum selection clause, which requires lawsuits to be filed in Geneva, Italy.
The courts have routinely enforced the forum selection clauses dictating where the lawsuits must be filed against a cruise ship company. In the case of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines, the passenger tickets require the lawsuits to be filed in Miami, Florida, and the lawsuit must be filed in the Southern District here in Miami, Florida.
Although the Carnival Cruise Lines passenger ticket requires a lawsuit to be brought in Miami, this requirement does not apply to cruises aboard the cruise ships operated by Costa Cruise Lines. This is despite the fact that Carnival Cruise Lines own Costa Cruise Lines. Costa is a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines. However, the law is clear that parent companies can only be liable for the acts of the subsidiary if you are able to legally “pierce the corporate veil,” which is very difficult to do.
In addition, the passenger tickets issued by the cruise lines contain clauses which prevent the institution of class action lawsuits.
The recent deaths that occurred over the weekend on the cruise ships owned and operated by Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, as well as the recent disaster with the Costa Concordia, again emphasizes the need for increased investigation into the safety onboard cruise ships, and the need for increased regulations of the cruise ship industry.
Our firm continues to serve as safety advocates for those injured or harmed at sea.