|Photo by Susan J. Young|
Will victims of the Costa Concordia be able to seek justice in U.S. courts? Based on the latest ruling, and a press release put out by the lawyers representing them, it appears that may be possible.
On Feb. 15, a district judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ordered the claims of 104 survivors (in two separate cases) remanded to the Florida State Court for continued litigation.
Both cases were initially commenced in the Florida State Court against Carnival Corporation, Costa's parent company, as well as ship designers and the architect. Carnival Corp. lawyers had the cases successfully transferred to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) of 2005.
However, the District Court judge said that CAFA expressly excludes those cases that are consolidated by a defense motion to achieve the CAFA minimum of 100 plaintiffs. Since neither of the two cases on their own contain 100 plaintiffs, the court said neither could be removed to federal jurisdiction.
Trying another tactic, Carnival Corp. also wanted the federal court to handle the cases, since the accident happened in Italy and the Italian government is handling the investigation. Victims did accept pre-cruise documents stating that any litigation for Costa must take place in an Italian court.
However, the District Court rejected that argument too. It said the Italian government was taking no position in the litigation and, according to the judge's ruling, neither owned nor operated the vessel.
The Costa Concordia victims are represented by Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Associates LLP, (with offices in New York and Florida as well as seven other states), New York-based Proner & Proner along with the Italian firm CODACONS.
Lawyers from Proner & Proner said both law firms involved have been contacted by Carnival Triumph passengers and are investigating filing suit on those claims as well.
But is the Costa Concordia legal situation now fully a U.S. matter, with the victims ultimately expected to receive compensation awards in a U.S. - instead of Italian - court of law? Is it totally a given that the state court will hear the cases?
Not so fast, say some with a background in the maritime industry. Apparently, when arguments are heard in a Florida state court, Carnival Corp. is expected to have the opportunity to object again and attempt to have the case removed to an Italian court.
While the success of that also remains to be seen, Jim Walker, a South Florida expert in maritime law sounds off about the potential issues in his most recent blog.
He says that while Carnival Corp. opened the door to U.S. litigation by transferring the case to a federal court, it's not clear yet if the case absolutely will remain on American soil.
His blog says: "But the Concordia victims can't count their chickens yet. Carnival will still have an opportunity to raise the forum non conveniens argument in the state court proceedings. Carnival will argue that the language in the judge's order is just dicta, and is not binding on the state court in any event."
Agents interested in the topic might read his full blog at:
One fact is sure, however. The Costa Concordia saga - both for the cruise line and the victims - will continue for some time.