The net was abuzz yesterday over reports that Costa was offering Concordia passengers a discount voucher for 30 percent off a future cruise.
Costa, however, disputes this and says they are in fact big shots and are refunding the entire purchase price of the cruise:
"Passengers on board the Costa Concordia on the night of the accident have not been offered a discount on future cruises. Costa is refunding the full cost of the cruise, the expenses incurred on board the ship, any transport costs incurred to reach the port of embarkation and return home if transfers organized by the company were not used. Costa Concordia guests also will be reimbursed any medical expenses they may have incurred as a result of the accident. As regards items left in the safe in the cabin, these will be returned to guests as soon as we recover the safe. Regarding the loss of personal belongings and other forms of compensation, we will be contacting guests in the very near future."Costa added, "you're welcome."
I'm not sure the 15 confirmed dead passengers will appreciate this gesture.
This follows Gabby D'Alemberte's article in the Herald which basically notes that you sign away all your legal rights when you board a cruise (in exchange for an awesome buffet!):
But the U.S. passengers who survived the disaster face a legal nightmare as well. Because of the documents they signed just before boarding the ship, they have virtually no chance to argue their case in court or to receive financial compensation for their losses.
That’s because the Italian cruise line company includes a “choice of forum” clause in the fine print of its ticketing documents that any lawsuit needs to be filed in Italy, not the United States. That makes a huge legal difference in how wrongful death, personal injury and other negligence cases are handled.
First of all, the Italian court system does not allow contingency fees in these types of cases. In addition, a plaintiff is required to post a bond of 10 percent of the expected damage award simply to file the lawsuit. That means a Costa Concordia passenger who could expect a $2 million damages award, based on similar cases in the United States would need to post $200,000 right at the start and pay an Italian law firm $200,000 to $300,000 in fees over the next four or five years before the case could even go to a jury.Yay Tort Reform!!
While the passenger may well prevail in court, based on the reported negligence of the captain and crew, very few people can afford to spend $500,000 or more in a protracted legal battle. That means the U.S. passengers and their families basically have no recourse in this tragedy.
Gabby suggests you mark out the offending venue language when you check in to your cruise:
When you come to the choice of forum clause in your ticket, take out your pen and cross out a few words, such as “I agree to…” and hand the documents back to the boarding agent. While the agent has the right to deny you from boarding, most likely you will still be ushered aboard.I hope she is right about that, but I have my doubts. If you are checking in with a large group and you hand alter the terms of the contract I have a feeling the boarding agent is going to be pretty ticked off, but maybe I'm wrong?
Then, if a tragedy does occur, you have a strong argument for filing your case in the United States, and receiving a fair and equitable outcome.
The bigger point of course is that no one -- including lawyers -- reads these adhesion contracts and even if they do they often just sign because there really is no meaningful alternative (especially where your bargaining rights are so limited).
That's why the judicial doctrines that have developed over the last century to protect consumers from unconscionable or drastically unfair contract terms are so important -- there's simply no other available method to address such poison pills in 6400-page corporate documents when all you want to do is slide down into the pool safely.