A timely article where experts say that victims of the Italian cruise ship tragedy this past weekend may not be able to sue for damages in the United States, and that the damages will be limited.
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By Andrew Longstreth | January 17, 2012
Victims of the Italian cruise ship disaster who might seek to sue in the United States, where damages lawsuits are a virtual industry, may be barred from doing so.
The primary reason, legal experts said, is that contracts written into the tickets state that lawsuits must be brought in the courts of Genoa, Italy.
The contracts allow exceptions in the case of voyages to U.S. ports. But the cruise that ended in tragedy on Friday had just left the port of Civitavecchia near Rome headed for Barcelona and Majorca.
The ship, one of the biggest passenger vessels ever to be wrecked, foundered after striking a rock. Six bodies have been found and 16 are missing among the 4,200 passengers and crew.
U.S. citizens seeking to bring claims against cruise operators have tried to challenge similar contracts in the past, arguing it is too burdensome to litigate in a foreign country. But courts have generally upheld the contracts, according to maritime law experts.
In August 2010, for example, a federal appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Regent Seven Seas Cruises, whose contract required claims over voyages not involving a U.S. port to be brought in Paris. Nina Janet Seung, who suffered injuries while on board a Regent cruise within French Polynesia, claimed she was financially unable to bring a lawsuit in Paris and that her medical condition prevented her from traveling there.
But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that her arguments were insufficient to override that part of the contract. The 11th Circuit has appellate jurisdiction over federal courts in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Carnival Corp, the Miami-based parent of operator Costa Crociere, is also unlikely to face criminal liability in the United States, since the incident happened in Italian territorial waters, legal experts said. Most U.S. criminal laws are not applied outside the United States.
“In the case of Costa, the litigation in the United States is going to be severely limited,” said Jason Margulies of the law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkelman, which specializes in maritime law.
Nevertheless, some U.S. lawyers said the unique circumstances of this case may merit a challenge, even though past case law is not on their side.
“When the stakes are high, it makes certain legal battles worth going forward with,” said Brett Rivkind, an attorney with Rivkind & Margulies, who represents victims in cruise incidents.
Even if U.S. citizens who suffered injuries aboard the ship were able to bring a lawsuit in U.S. courts, their damages may be limited. Under the Athens Convention, which limits the liability of cruise operators, the cap currently stands about $80,000 per person, according to legal experts.
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