Friday 13 January 2012. The Costa Concordia strikes rocks less than a mile of the coast of the Italian Island Giglio. The captain immediately orders the evacuation of the ship. As of today, estimates suggest most of the 4,200 passengers have made it off the ship with a few still unaccounted for.
What in the wild west does this have to do with the practice of city law you ask? Well, quite a lot actually. A huge variety of pertinent legal issues must now be considered for all associated parties and I thought I would share my thoughts on this topical issue.
So the big, million dollar question, Who is at fault? As with most major screw ups someone has to take the rap. This question is relevant for a number of reasons. If it was the captain that was negligent (a few too many champagnes at the top table maybe? A lack of knowledge of the navigable waters he was in?) then the insurance policy for Carnival Cruise Co may have an exclusion provision not to cover the liability of the company if it was due to the gross negligence of one of its employees or, as is more likely, to make less of a contribution to the company’s losses. – entirely possible.
Carnival Cruise Co would have you believe it was the captain and him alone. But who else could be at fault? Well what about this…Did the ships navigation system not have a detailed map of the lowlying reef immediately next to the Costa Concordia’s current position and should it have had this? And what about the collision alarm? Did this not sound? Why did it not? The manufacturer of the relevant equipment may be assessing these issues in the next few days as they prepare to cover their respective posteriors – a situation all to evident from the BP mecando oil well disaster in which Transocean the makers of the faulty safety valve have been joined as defendants to the class action being brought by affected parties. I would say that if there is any evidence of third party fault in The Costs Concordia case you can bet your bottom dollar that this party will be in crisis control mode now a.k.a lawyering up! Or maybe, just maybe, Carnival didn’t equip the ship or the captain with the right equipment to do his job safely, but that is a wild suggestion of my over active legal mind.
Further stemming from the question of who is at fault, is the consideration of compensating the passengers. This was a hugely stressful and life altering event for these people. Many would have considered death and a small few didn’t make it out alive and their families will have forever lost a loved one. A lawyers job here is to make sure that the families of these innocent victims and the victims themselves are provided for, so far as money can do so, for the loss that they have suffered or the distress and future psychological pain and suffering that will come with being involved in all of this. How this is relevant to the question of who is to blame, is the question of who will pay for these claims to be settled, or disputed claims to be fought (as indeed some cases will be fought). Again, is Costa Concordia’s insurance company on the hook? Maybe Carnival’s board will today be considering siphoning money into a reserve fund to deal with these claims or speaking with the navigation producer to see where they stand. Also possible is that the captain has a form of professional liability insurance and his insurers will be evaluating the merits of his version of events to evaluate thier hand in pocket potential.
That doesnt seem like too complicated a situstion to deal with…a few million in claims and insurance issues…But…where did the disaster occur? Did the ship strike the rocks in international waters, at which point everyone was alive and well and relatively unaware of their fate and did it then progress into Italian waters, where the life altering events then began? If so, does this affect where a claim is to be brought? Are the Italian courts the most well placed to deal with this dispute or should a US court deal with the case as Carnival Cruise Co is an American incorporated company? Perhaps both or none or a combination of courts will be used. The legal questions are endless and will be hotly contested and fought with both the company and future claimants wanting to ensure that try receive a fair outcome to this disaster. So, I suppose the question really is. How does this not relate to the practice of city law?