NEW YORK - Survivors of the Costa Concordia grounding off the Tuscan coast of Italy in January 2012 won a huge victory in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida last week, when the District Judge ordered the claims of 104 survivors remanded to the Florida State Court for continued litigation. The court's February 15, 2013 order concerned two cases, Denise Abeid-Saba, et al., v. Carnival Corporation et al., (USDC-SDFla Docket No.: 12-CV-23513) and Scimone v. Carnival Corp., (USDC-S.D.Fla Docket No.: 12-CV-23505), together representing the claims of 104 plaintiffs injured when the huge ship capsized after grounding on rocks just off the shore of Isola del Giglio.
Both cases were initially commenced in the Florida State Court against Carnival Corp. as the parent corporation as well as ship designers and the architect. The cases were removed to the Federal Court by the defendants under the CLASS ACTION FAIRNESS ACT OF 2005 ("CAFA"), which allows for the removal of so-called "mass actions" to the federal courts. As the District Court noted, however, the CAFA expressly excludes those cases that are consolidated by a defense motion to achieve the CAFA minimum of 100 plaintiffs. Since neither the Abeid-Saba action nor the Scimone action contained 100 plaintiffs, the Court held that neither was amenable to removal under CAFA. Defendants also plead "federal question" jurisdiction as a second basis for removal; the District Court rejected this argument as well, holding that the interests in the litigation of the Italian government, which took no position in the litigation and neither owned nor operated the doomed vessel, were "speculative at best."
Plaintiff's counsel Marc Jay Bern cited the Court's closing statements in celebrating this great victory for the plaintiffs: "As the District Court recognized, 'this case is about international and U.S. passengers injured on a pleasure cruise run by a private corporation and whether that corporation properly adhered to safety standards or was other negligent.' We are thrilled that we can now turn our attention to litigating the facts of this case before a Florida State court where the plaintiffs can expect their interests will be protected rather than in Italy where the courts are notoriously slow and cases for mass torts such as shipwrecks have taken as long as thirty years without final decisions. Additionally passengers litigating their claims in Italy would be subject to paying for litigation costs and under the American system, plaintiffs' law firms only seek compensation if their clients are successful. Thus the Florida state courts provide our clients the promise of a remedy not available in Italy."
Bern also noted that the recent events concerning safety issues on another Carnival ship, the Carnival Triumph, where an engine room fire stranded more than 3000 passengers in the Gulf of Mexico for almost a week, are yet another incident in a series of safety concerns relating to Carnival cruise ships. That fire was the third engine room fire on a Carnival or Carnival subsidiary ship since 2010, highlighting recurrent safety deficiencies in the cruise line industry in general and by Carnival in particular.
Bern's Co-Counsel Mitchell Proner of the law firm Proner & Proner noted that the firms have been contacted by Carnival Triumph passengers and are investigating filing suit on those claims as well. Both the Costa Concordia and the Carnival Triumph were built in the same "Discovery" cruise ship design platform and the attorneys will argue that there must have better oversight of the cruise ship industry in general and the Carnival Corp., specifically. The attorneys hope that plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages of half a billion dollars in the Costa Concordia matter will influence these corporate entities to reconsider their pursuit of profits over passenger safety.
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. At least $2 million in compensation per passenger is sought, and attorneys plan to request $590 million in punitive damages.