* 39 passengers sued ship’s owners in Miami court
* Lawsuit alleges gross negligence, carelessness
* Costa extends deadline to accept its compensation
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Dozens of additional survivors of the Costa Concordia shipwreck off Italy have joined a Florida lawsuit that accuses the ship’s owners of gross negligence and fraud, and asks for at least $528 million in damages.
An amended lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the state circuit court in Miami against Carnival Corp, which is incorporated in Panama and headquartered in Miami, and several of its subsidiaries, including Florida-based Costa Cruise Lines and Costa Crociere, which is based in Italy and operated the ill-fated ship.
Thirty-three more surviving passengers were added to the six in the original lawsuit filed in January, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 39.
Carnival declined to comment, saying it does not typically comment on litigation matters.
The lawsuit alleges that the company acted with gross negligence and careless disregard during the cruise that ended on Jan. 13 when the Costa Concordia hit a reef and capsized off the coast of Italy. The ship carried 4,200 passengers and crew, and 32 were killed.
The suit alleges that the crew failed to conduct safety drills, that the ship was off course when it hit the reef, that the captain waited too long before giving the order to evacuate, that the crew performed badly during the evacuation and that the cruise line inflicted emotional distress and failed to provide prompt and adequate aid to survivors.
“Plaintiffs found themselves in a listing, capsizing, sinking vessel without communication, direction or help from the captain and misdirection from the crew from approximately 9:45 p.m. to approximately 11 p.m. and were left to fend for themselves,” the lawsuit said.
It alleges that the cruise company committed fraud in claiming that it complied with safety regulations, and that the online version of the agreement passengers had to accept in order to buy tickets did not include complete details.
Among those details were a requirement that claims against the company had to be pursued in Genoa, Italy, where Costa Crociere is based.
“The nature of the conduct, being so outrageous and reckless, and the failure to provide for safety features, actually negates the contract ... it makes the ticket null and void,” said Marc Jay Bern, a senior partner in one of the law firms that filed the suit, Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik and Associates.
The suit said the captain’s abandonment of the ship before all the passengers were evacuated was “so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency.”
It asks for more than $78 million in compensatory damages and at least $450 million in punitive damages, plus interest and attorney costs.
Costa, which blamed the captain for the accident, has offered passengers compensation of $14,500 plus a refund and costs of travel home.
It had originally given passengers until Tuesday to accept the offer, but extended the deadline to March 31 to allow them to review the proposal with less urgency. Costa said the offer was available only to passengers who had returned home.
“The families of deceased and missing victims and guests who were injured will be covered under a separate proposal based on their individual circumstances,” the cruise line said.
The plaintiffs in the Miami lawsuit are from the United States, Italy, Venezuela, China, Canada, Germany, Korea and Kazakhstan. The lawsuit said the Florida court is the appropriate jurisdiction because the defendants engaged in business in the state.
“Only one cruise ship has gone down in over 100 years, the Titanic. Now the Costa Concordia will live in infamy with it,” Bern said.
The original lawsuit asked for $10 million in compensatory damages and at least $450 million in punitive damages.
The case number is 12-3496CA 40, Geoffrey Scimone et al vs. Carnival Corp et al.