The Costa Concordia Suit - Carnival Contests Jurisdiction in Texas
There seems to have been a recent uptick in the media’s reporting on the wreck of Carnival’s 144,000 ton cruise ship Costa Concordia. Over 25 passengers lost their lives in the January 2012 tragedy, and many more were injured.
In May of this year I reported on the suit filed in federal court in Galveston, Texas, by Kai Stumpf, a German citizen who lost his wife in the accident. Mr. Stumpf’s wrongful death suit claims that the accident “in part resulted from a ridiculous stunt perpetrated by the so-called captain of the Costa Concordia, in an ill-conceived attempt to ‘salute’ the inhabitants of Isola del Giglio, or ‘honor’ past and present crew members who lived on the island, and the failure of Carnival plc to implement a proper safety management system”.
Mr. Stumpf argues that the federal court in Galveston (which sits approximately 5,500 miles from the scene of the accident) has jurisdiction over the suit because, at the time of filing, the Carnival ship Triumph was docked down the street at Galveston’s thriving cruise port. The suit, in addition to requesting damages of over $10,000,000, also sought maritime attachment and garnishment (i.e. seizure) of the Triumph, so that it could be utilized to satisfy any ultimate monetary judgment rendered against Carnival. The Court indeed attached the Triumph, delaying its scheduled departure for a short time. In response, Carnival provided the court with a Letter of Undertaking, which assured the court that it would pay any eventual final money judgment which might be entered against it. With that assurance, the Triumph was allowed to sail.
The lawsuit appears to have been inactive, however, until last week. On July 9th, Defendants Carnival plc and Utopia Cruises filed their Motion to Dismiss the wrongful death suit based upon the argument that the Texas court does not have personal jurisdiction over them. Defendants state that (1) neither maintains an office in Texas (2) neither does business in Texas (3) neither has employees in Texas and (4) neither operate ships that call upon ports in Texas . Further, they claim, neither of them actual own the Triumph. They assert that the actual owner, Carnival Corporation, is not named as a defendant in the case.
Mr. Stumpf’s attorneys will now have twenty days to respond and argue to the court the reasons they believe the case should stay in Galveston. If it is true that neither defendant does business in Texas, and that neither owns the Triumph, Mr. Stumpf will face an uphill battle in keeping the case in Galveston. If the motion to dismiss is granted the Galveston phase of the litigation will end, but rest assured it will continue in Italy, in the states where the Costa Concordia’s owners do business, or any other court in which jurisdiction is proper.