Despite compensation offer, Italian cruise ship survivors sue for damages
Rome (CNN) — A handful of surviving passengers of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship filed a lawsuit against the cruise line on Friday, the same day the company offered each of the hundreds who’d been aboard the vessel a lump sum of 11,000 euros ($14,400) .Six individuals filed the complaint asking for a jury trial and seeking retribution from Costa Cruises, its parent company Carnival Cruise Lines and two “John Does.” The suit was filed in a court in southern Florida, where Carnival is headquartered.Marc Bern, a senior partner with the New York-based law firm Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, told CNN his firm represents “hundreds” of passengers who were aboard the ship — suggesting that many of them could soon join the six named plaintiffs in filing complaints. The lawsuit filed Friday states the plaintiffs first contacted Italian consumer law group Codacons, which led to the creation of “an international legal collaboration … to vigorously advocate for passengers’ rights.”
The lawsuit requests “economic and compensatory damages in excess of $10 million for the six named plaintiffs (and) punitive damages, in an amount of at least $450 million.”
This per-passenger figure is far larger than the $14,400 amount decided upon following a meeting between Costa Cruises and consumer groups, which was announced earlier Friday by the Italian Association of Tour Operators.
The massive Costa Concordia liner struck rocks and rolled onto its side in shallow waters off an island on Italy’s Tuscan coast on January 13, leading to a panicked overnight evacuation and at least 16 deaths. Another 16 people are missing.
Franco Gabrielli of Italy’s civil protection agency, who is heading the rescue operation, said 14 of the bodies found have now been identified.
The lawsuit filed Friday faults the cruise ship operators on several counts, including “maritime negligence,” “gross negligence,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “negligent retention.”
Outlining the compensation deal it agreed to, Costa expressed “its profound condolences to the families of the victims, our continued sympathy to the families of the missing, and our deep regret and sorrow for the damages and hardship the Costa Concordia accident caused to all its guests.”
The compensation would be paid to each passenger regardless of age and will cover damage to and loss of property and any psychological distress suffered, it said.
In addition, Costa said it would reimburse the cost of the cruise and additional travel expenses and will return the contents of cabin safes to their owners if possible, and it will also set up a psychological counseling program for those passengers who request it.
Separate agreements will be reached with those passengers who were injured and needed treatment at the scene and with the families of those who died, the statement added.
A spokesman for the Italian Association of Tour Operators said none of the passengers was obliged to sign the agreement but, if they do, they cannot sue Costa.
Jesus Garcia Heredia, who was on the cruise with his wife, told CNN he would not accept the payout.
“If we can reach an agreement, I am willing to agree not to sue, no problem,” he said. “But not for 11,000 euros. I don’t accept this.”
Heredia said he has not yet been contacted by anyone in the company to talk about compensation.
“There was a lot of loss that day,” he said, referring to personal belongings and the emotional toll of the disaster. “We had it really bad there.” Weather and sea conditions are expected to worsen Saturday, leading to higher waves, Gabrielli said. While this will not prevent the removal of fuel, it could present more risk to the environment if anything goes wrong, he said.
Residents of Giglio island near the site of the shipwreck have complained of seeing white filaments in the sea, he said, but further testing is needed to confirm the origin of the substance.