MIAMI – Thirty-nine survivors of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized off Italy last month filed an amended lawsuit in Florida state court on Tuesday seeking more than half a billion dollar in damages.
The suit filed against Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines Inc., and its subsidiary Costa Cruise Line – which owns the Costa Concordia – seeks $78 million in damages and $450 million in punitive damages.
The defendants "acted in a severely reckless and wilful, wanton manner, with complete disregard for the safety, lives and well being of the plaintiffs," said Marc Bern, a lawyer representing the passengers.
The behaviour demonstrated "an extreme departure from reasonable care coupled with a conscious awareness of the risk of harm," said Bern, speaking outside the downtown Miami courthouse where the case was filed.
Legal experts say that it could be difficult to win the case in a US court because the Costa Cruise Line tickets stated that any legal action against the company should be taken in Italy.
Lewis Shelton, another passenger lawyer, was undeterred.
"We believe we will succeed," Shelton told reporters. "Florida is proper because Carnival and Costa are essentially the same entity with offices here."
The 39 plaintiffs include passengers from Italy, the United States, Germany, Canada, South Korea and China.
Our goal "is to get the cruise lines to stop... spending money on ads that market dream vacations that can't be fulfilled because they invest nothing in security or personnel training," said Oscar Aleman, a Venezuelan passenger who lost his personal documents in the shipwreck.
The Costa Concordia had 4,229 people aboard including about 1,000 personnel when it ran aground on January 13 near Giglio, a picturesque island off Tuscany.
Thirty-two people are believed to have died in the tragedy, although the bodies of 15 have not been recovered.
Captain Francesco Schettino, who faces charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated, is under house arrest.
Since the disaster, several consumer associations have announced their intention to bring a class action against Costa Cruise Lines despite the firm's offer to pay passengers on board the doomed liner more than $14,000 each.
Costa extended until March 31 a deadline for passengers to accept the cash payout.
"These are charity handouts that makes mockery" of our ordeal, said Juan Carrasquel, another Venezuelan passenger.
Carnival officials have not responded to calls from AFP.
The original suit was filed by six passengers late last month demanding $460 million in compensation from Carnival Cruise Lines. -- AFP