Lawyer Says Cruise Lawsuits Will Force Insurers to Demand Higher Standards

By Philip Pullella | February 9, 2012

Insurers stung by multi-million dollar claims over the Concordia shipwreck will demand higher safety standards from the cruise industry, a lawyer who will file suits this month against Carnival Corp for more than 70 plaintiffs said on Thursday.

“There are many ways of bringing about change. One is legislation, but the second one is private. In a pure capitalism world, if the insurance company has to pay more money for claims then they will have more (safety and training) requirements,” said U.S. lawyer John Arthur Eaves.

Eaves represents clients from six countries and is urging other survivors and relatives of victims of the wreck of the Costa Concordia liner to sue the parent company in the United States rather than the subsidiary in Italy to increase compensation payments and help push through worldwide changes.

“By increasing the value of each claim, it makes the cruise industry take notice so that in the future they will invest more in training, in technology and they will cooperate with the proposed changes that we hope to make with the law,” he told a news conference.

“We will focus on the practices of Carnival because we believe they set the industry standards and set the pace.”

The first suits will be filed, most likely in Florida, in about two weeks, said Eaves, whose firm won compensation of some $2 million for each family of the 20 people who died when a U.S. military jet clipped a ski gondola cable in northern Italy in 1998. Carnival is based in Miami.

Eaves said the amount of money the ship’s owner Costa Cruises had offered survivors was “disrespectful for people who had to go through a Titanic experience”.

Costa last month offered about €11,000 ($14,630) to each of the more than 3,000 injured passengers who survived the wreck when the Concordia ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio and capsized on Jan. 13.

The company blamed the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, for the accident.

Schettino, who prosecutors say sailed too close to the island where it was torn open by rocks, is under house arrest on charges of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Eaves said Carnival, the world’s No. 1 cruise operator and Costa’s parent, would survive the lawsuits. “I don’t think that under any situation this could cripple such a large and powerful company,” he said.

Eaves, who has handled several shipwreck cases in the past, told a news conference that the “high value of American life should be applied to everyone”, dismissing limits on compensation set in other countries as “unconscionable.”

Some 17 people are known to have died and 15 are missing after the accident, a humiliation for the Italian passenger ship industry.

Eaves suggested that families of those who died should sue Carnival for between $1 million and $3 million and survivors should “not even begin negotiations for less than $100,000-$150,000.”

Eaves is challenging Carnival’s attempt to have the suits heard in Italy and be against Costa.

“We believe that Carnival was setting the culture, setting the industry practices, really running the show here and that is the reason that Carnival is responsible, independently of the Italian company,” he said.

Carnival has said the disaster will wipe up to $175 million from its profits this year and warned of possible additional impact on the company later.

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