Miami Appeals Court Ejects Costa Concordia Case
Lawsuits filed by passengers on the Costa Concordia ship that ran aground and sank in Italy should be heard in that country, a state appellate court ruled Wednesday.
The Third District Court of Appeal decided 57 plaintiffs, including five U.S. residents, should not be allowed to pursue their lawsuit against Miami-based Costa parent Carnival Corp. in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, which dismissed the case on forum non conveniens grounds.
The Costa Concordia sank off the Italian island of Giglio in January 2012 after its captain allegedly changed course to do a “sail-by salute” and hit a coral reef. More than 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members were evacuated, and 32 people died.
“The evidence is located in Italy,” Third DCA Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote in the unanimous opinion. “The wreckage, voyage data recorder, bridge voice recorder, ship cameras and the vessel’s electronic navigation system are all in the custody of Italian authorities.”
The plaintiffs were the first of many to sue after the grounding, filing their complaint just weeks after the ship flipped on its side, said David Weiner of Arnold & Porter in Washington, who joined his Houston colleague Thad Dameris and John Kimball of Blank Rome in New York in representing Carnival.
“As it turns out, they end up as the last cases that have been decided in the U.S.,” Weiner said. “All of the other litigation was dismissed.”
The dismissals have been mostly on forum non conveniens grounds, Dameris said.
“Where these cases all turned, if you look at them globally, was on forum non conveniens and our ability to convince the court that these cases with an overwhelming number of foreign citizens didn’t belong in Florida state court,” he said.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court applied a four-pronged forum test in 2013, finding Italy was an adequate alternative forum where the plaintiffs could pursue their claims without undue burden. The court also ruled public and private interests favored litigating in Italy and found evidence that Carnival would suffer “material injustice” if the case was litigated in Florida.
The plaintiffs appealed the 2013 dismissal, arguing Italy was an inadequate forum because the case would take longer there and each plaintiff would have to hire individual counsel.
The passengers also argued documentary evidence would be accessible in English and Florida was an appropriate forum because cruise ship disputes are often litigated here.
The Third DCA agreed with the trial court that a delay of many years was not reason enough to try the case in Florida. Nearly all the evidence is in Italy, including the ship captain, eyewitnesses and documents in the Italian government’s investigation, the appellate court found.
“Of the 3,206 passengers aboard the Costa Concordia, two-thirds are European citizens,” Lagoa wrote. “None of the 1,223 crew members are United States citizens. Any number of these passengers and/or crew members are potential witnesses.”