Families of deceased cruise ship passengers of a downed ship may find that they are on shaky legal ground due to jurisdictional issues and a boilerplate waiver.

The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2012 resulted in 32 deaths and numerous injuries, and the Italian owners agreed to pay a hefty fine to square with the Italian government and avoid criminal charges. This does not mean that they are immune to private lawsuits that may be brought by individuals. However, because the ship is not registered in the US, its crew and owners may not be subject to the same laws that govern US-registered vessels.

There are US and international laws that cover all cruise ships such as the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act and the International Safety Management Code, but there are significant holes that foreign-registered ships can wiggle through to avoid criminal and civil charges. In this case, though, the captain who abandoned ship before anyone else and whose negligence caused the disaster is not so lucky. He is currently facing charges in Italian court. Five other ship employees had already pled guilty to manslaughter and negligence for less than 3 years in prison.

With regards to the ship owners’ liability to their passengers and crew, Costa Crociere SpA offered settlements that some had accepted. Those that were dissatisfied by the terms of the settlement got together to file class action suits against the company in Florida, but the defendants are maintaining that any civil action must be filed in Italy, as stipulated in the contracts signed by the passengers. As of the latest updates, the cases are still pending.

In the wake of this disaster, there have been initiatives to improve the legal remedies open to passengers in foreign-registered cruise ships but it is slow going. In the meantime, passengers who sustain serious injuries while on a cruise will have to rely of the expertise and knowledge of cruise ship injury lawyers that specialize in navigating this slippery slope.

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