By Jim Stickford
A Michigan law firm is now representing several passengers who were on board the Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy, eventually sinking on January 13 with at least 16 known casualties.
Enrico Schaefer, a partner at Traverse Legal, a Traverse Citybased law firm with offices in Detroit, Troy, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and metro Washington, D.C., confirmed that the firm is now involved in the case based on its experience in successfully representing passengers tied to several earlier cruise ship disasters.
"This is an immensely complex process," Schaefer said. "We have experience navigating it. For example, we had about 45 clients connected with the Crown Princess disaster that happened off the coast of Florida back in 1996. It was similar to the recent Costa cruise case in that it ended up listing 24 degrees to port, causing among other things, the pools to empty and unsecured furniture to tumble across the decks. Dozens of passengers were injured."
The captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, is facing potential criminal charges for allegedly abandoning the ship while passengers were still aboard. The crew and the passengers hale from a number of countries on several different continents.
Determining which court will hear any litigation resulting from the cruise ship sinking will be a chore, Schaefer said, noting that basic contract law may steer jurisdiction to the Italian courts, while international treaties may change the venue to another country, possibly the U.S. The cases, wherever they are heard, are expected to be tedious and difficult, particularly because of language barriers and jurisdictional issues, he indicated.
Passengers can expect, under the best circumstances, that the cases will take at least two years to resolve, Schaefer said.
"The cruise ship company and the passengers, by in large, want fair compensation," Schaefer said. "Those with pie-in-the-sky expectations are few. This process isn't easy, like I said. But it's a helluva lot easier than going to trial."