As surely as the tide comes in and out, one can expect lawsuits to be filed over the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship near Giglio Island in Italy on January 13, 2012. Indeed, according to one recent report, a “class action suit has already been initiated by Codacons, an Italian consumer defense organization, and so far 70 passengers have already joined the suit.” But will these lawsuits be successful? The answer may come down to the very ticket passengers purchased to board the ship.
As reported by Reuters, the ticket to board a cruise ship is more than just the first step to fun in the sun. It is a contract — often quite detailed — that usually provides significant limitations on liability for the cruise line. The Reuters piece, entitled “What you sign away when you buy a cruise ticket,” highlights what may be some of the key issues in future litigation relating to the Costa Concordia. Indeed, a cruise ship passenger typically agrees to give up various “rights” in purchasing a ticket, including:
- The right to privacy (e.g. allowing the cruise line to search your luggage or to use photographs taken of you on board in a future commercial without compensation);
- The right to compensation for stolen or damaged valuables or luggage (the contract usually limits the company’s liability to a fixed amount such as $100 per stateroom);
- The right to sue in the forum of your choice (there is typically a binding arbitration clause for lost property and a forum selection clause for a particular federal district court for personal injury claims);
- The right to sue when you want (there is often a time limit set within which any claim must be brought and frequently the cruise line must first be given notice);
- The right to seek punitive damages (e.g., for international contracts, like the ones Costa Concordia passengers probably signed, the “Athens Convention” limits liability to approximately $80,000). A recent article discussing the Athens Convention is available here.
In light of these contractual limitations, plaintiffs in Costa Concordia lawsuits may face an uphill battle. Not surprisingly, the Reuters article notes that some plaintiffs’ lawyers may try to argue that the contractual limitations should not apply to the particulars of this case. For example, the article notes that plaintiffs’ lawyers may argue that the limitations on liability should not apply if the ship’s owners and operators acted recklessly.
We will continue to monitor legal developments relating to the Costa Concordia.