Costa Concordia

Costa Concordia passengers sue cruise company for $460m

Lawyers for six passengers file lawsuit in Florida against Costa Cruises, saying firm's €11,000 compensation offer is 'insulting'.

An American legal team working with lawyers from around the world has announced details of a $460m (£290m) civil suit filed in Florida seeking damages for passengers on board the Costa Concordia, as rescuers called off their search for victims of the shipwreck.

More than two weeks after the cruise liner capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 17 and leaving at least a dozen still missing, divers abandoned their search for victims as attention was turned to the process of seeking redress.

"We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship," Luca Cari, a spokesman for the fire brigade on the island of Giglio, said.

Mitchell Proner, a New York personal injury lawyer, announced the lodging of the civil suit in Florida at a press conference in Genoa on Tuesday, saying that offers of compensation by the cruise company Costa Cruises were "insulting".

"They must be held responsible for what they did. They intentionally put the passengers at risk. We believe we can win in Florida and we are going to go forward, forward, forward without fear until they don't know what hit them … sort of like the Concordia."

Proner, of law firm Proner & Proner, said he was working with a New York firm – Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik – noted for winning millions of pounds in compensation for Ground Zero workers who had health claims related to the 11 September 2001 attacks, and suits against BP for its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Proner said he and a coalition of international lawyers were representing 500 clients, including passengers from Croatia, Brazil, Russia, France, Germany and the Dominican Republic.

The lawsuit has the backing of the Italian consumer protection agency Codacons. The group's president, Carlo Rienzi, said this week: "All those who were on board the ship are entitled to be compensated not only for material damage, but also to moral ones, such as fear and terror suffered, and the risks related to physical integrity."

Proner noted that Carnival Cruise Lines is based in Florida, but that the Italian affiliate company Costa Cruises is also registered in Hollywood, Florida, where it publicises and sells cruises.

The Florida suit is pushing for $10m in personal damages and $450m punitive damages on behalf of six passengers – two American couples, Geoffrey and Nancy Scimone and Mario and Nancy Lofaro, and an Italian couple. The Italians are Ernesto Carusotti, 70, and Paola Falconi, 69, from Rome, who on Tuesday, their voices shaking, told their harrowing story of escaping after a lifeboat they were in became caught on the ship's side.

"You can't imagine the fear," said Carusotti. They managed to get into a lifeboat on the high side of the ship, but it became hung up on the ship's flank. After repeated failed efforts by the crew to untangle the lifeboat they were eventually told to get out and go to the other side of the listing ship. "These people had not been trained for emergencies. We lost 30 minutes messing around with that lifeboat, 30 minutes when I could have been trying to get safely to another part of the ship," said Carusotti.

The couple said they had to crawl across the slippery deck to the lower side of the ship, stopping to help carry a person in a wheelchair up a set of stairs. Once on the other side, they had to jump two metres on to another lifeboat.

They said passengers were given mixed signals during the evacuation.

"We kept hearing messages in code that we didn't understand," Carusotti said. "They were saying Charlie Charlie India Charlie."

Last week, the couple received a letter from Costa Cruises offering them €11,000 (£9,000) compensation. "We knew we couldn't take on a company that big by ourselves," Carusotti said.

Proner said one of his bilingual clients heard conflicting instructions on the ship. Passengers were told "go back to your cabins" in English, while the instructions in Italian were to get on the lifeboats. A French lawyer said her clients were treated poorly afterwards, taken to a second-rate hotel while the Americans were put up in the Hilton, and not given clothes or money, while the French ambassador had to "fight" for a bus home.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered from the Costa Concordia, which partially sank off the coast of Giglio on 13 January. At least a dozen people are still missing, including a five-year-old girl and her father. On Monday, Italian authorities said the ship could take eight to 10 months to remove, triggering a wave of protest from Giglio residents, who fear the hulking half-sunk ship looming 150 metres off the port could ruin tourism on the island.

(Published by The Guardian - January 31, 2012)


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2/2/12 - Too early for Costa Concordia compensation: lawyer - click here.

2/2/12 - Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino faces 19 charges - click here.


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