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Concordia Cruise Lawsuits Unlikely in U.S.

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Rescuers continue to search for survivors in the wake of a deadly Italian cruise ship disaster. But injured passengers and crew likely won't be able to pursue cruise-related lawsuits in the United States.

The Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia -- one of the largest ever to be wrecked -- is owned by a company called Costa Crociere, Agence France Presse reports. Already, more than 70 passengers have joined a lawsuit seeking compensation from Costa Crociere in an Italian court, AFP reports.

Costa Crociere is actually owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., Reuters reports. But experts say legal action likely cannot take place in the United States. Here's why:

The main reason lies in contract law. Contracts written into the Concordia's tickets assert all cruise ship lawsuits must be brought in the courts of Genoa, Italy, Reuters reports.

The contract language is called a "forum selection clause," and it's common in the cruise industry. U.S. courts have generally upheld such clauses as fair -- otherwise, cruise companies would be forced to defend lawsuits from all over the world.

U.S. citizens have tried to challenge international forum selection clauses, arguing it's too burdensome to sue abroad. But courts have generally ruled against those challenges, and have upheld international cruise-ticket contracts, Reuters reports.

The Concordia's crew also likely can't sue in U.S. courts, because their employment contracts probably require arbitration to settle any disputes, Reuters reports.

Carnival Corp. is also likely off the hook for any potential criminal charges, because the accident happened in Italian waters. Most criminal laws are not applied outside the United States, Reuters reports.

Even if injured passengers pursue a potential Costa Concordia cruise lawsuit in Italy, their compensation may be limited. An international agreement called the Athens Convention caps a cruise operator's liability at about $80,000 per person, Reuters reports.

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