Cruise ship victims mull $14 460 compensation deal

2012-01-28 08:24

How much is it worth to suffer through a terrifying cruise ship grounding?

Italian ship operator Costa Crociere has put the figure at $14 460 (R115 279) plus reimbursement for the cost of cruise tickets and extra travel expenses, seeking to cut a deal with as many passengers as possible to take the wind out of class action lawsuits stemming from the January 13 grounding of its Costa Concordia cruise liner off Tuscany.

But many passengers are refusing to accept the deal, saying they can’t yet put a figure on the costs of the trauma they endured. And lawyers are backing them up, telling passengers it’s far too soon to know how people’s lives and livelihoods might be affected by the experience.

The terror and trauma
“We’re very worried about the children,” said Claudia Urru of Cagliari, Sardinia, who was on the Concordia with her husband and two sons, aged three and 12, when it capsized.

Her elder son is seeing a psychiatrist. He won’t speak about the incident or even look at television footage of the grounding.

“He’s terrorised at night,” she told The Associated Press. “He can’t go to the bathroom alone. We’re all sleeping together, except my husband, who has gone into another room because we don’t all fit.”

As a result, she said, her family retained a lawyer because they don’t know what the real impact – financial or otherwise – of the trauma will be. She said her family simply isn’t able to make such decisions now.

“We are having a very, very hard time,” she said.

Costa’s offer, which covers compensation for lost baggage and psychological trauma, was the result of negotiations with several consumer groups who say they are representing 3 206 passengers from 61 countries who suffered no physical harm when the massive cruise ship hit a reef off the island of Giglio.

It’s not clear, though, how many of those passengers will take the deal, even though they’re guaranteed payment within a week of signing on.

In addition to the lump sum indemnity, Costa, a unit of the world’s biggest cruise operator, Miami-based Carnival, said it would reimburse uninjured passengers the full costs of their cruise, their return travel expenses and any medical expenses they sustained after the grounding.

The deal does not apply to the hundreds of crew on the ship, many of whom have lost their jobs, the roughly 100 people who were injured in the chaotic evacuation, or the families who lost loved ones.

Sixteen bodies have already been recovered from the disaster and another 16 people who were on board are missing and presumed dead.

Yesterday, the first known lawsuit was filed against Costa and Carnival by one of the Concordia’s crew members, Gary Lobaton of Peru. The suit, filed in Chicago federal court, accuses Carnival and Costa of negligence because of an unsafe evacuation and is seeking class action status.

In Italy, some consumer groups have already signed on as injured parties in the criminal case against the Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all those aboard were evacuated.

Schettino, who is under house arrest, deviated from the ship’s charted course to bring the Concordia closer to Giglio, gashing the hull on a reef a few hundred metres offshore. He has said the reef wasn’t on his nautical charts.

In addition, Codacons, one of Italy’s best-known consumer groups, has teamed up with two US law firms to launch a class action lawsuit against Costa and Carnival in Miami, claiming that it expects to get anywhere from $164 000 to $1.3 million per passenger.

German attorney Hans Reinhardt, who currently represents 15 Germans who survived the accident and is in talks to represent families who lost loved ones, said he is advising his clients not to take the settlement.

Instead, he along with Codacons is working with one of the US law firms to pursue the class action suit in Miami.

But Roberto Corbella, who represented Costa in the negotiations with consumer groups that led to the offer, said the deal provides passengers with quick and “generous” restitution that with all the reimbursements could amount to some $18 500 per passenger, even non-paying children.

“The big advantage that they have is an immediate response, no legal expenses, and they can put this whole thing behind them,” he told AP.

Melissa Goduti, of Wallingford, Connecticut, is trying to do just that but hasn’t quite been able to. The 28-year-old, who was travelling with her mother aboard the Concordia, says she can’t sleep at night – “nothing works, even meds” – and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said Costa had offered to pay for three to five counselling sessions for the post-traumatic stress disorder, but that she’ll need more.

“That will not fix my problem,” she said in an email. “No one is going to get over this tragic event in three to five counselling sessions.”

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