Costa Concordia
Costa Concordia ()

Passengers of the ill-fated cruise ship Costa Concordia argued Wednesday before the Third District Court of Appeal that their negligence lawsuits should stay in Florida.

Simultaneously, Doral-based Carnival Corp. and other defendants argued the cases should be tried in Italy.

The Third District was considering two lawsuits heard by different Miami-Dade Circuit judges that reached different conclusions.

In Denise Abeid-Saba et al v. Carnival, which involves five U.S. and 52 foreign plaintiffs, Circuit Judge Norma Lindsey entered a 23-page order last July 19 granting Carnival’s motion to dismiss on a question of forum.

On the same day, Circuit Judge Spencer Eig heard Geoffrey Scimone et al v. Carnival and entered a partial dismissal that allowed 17 plaintiffs with U.S. residency to pursue their claims in Florida. But Eig granted dismissal against 35 foreign plaintiffs.

During argument, plaintiffs attorney Louise Caro of Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik & Associates in Miami acknowledged the case law was against her when it came to the foreign plaintiffs. She asked the court to affirm Eig on the U.S. plaintiffs in Scimone and reverse for the U.S. plaintiffs in Abeid-Saba.

District Judge Barbara Lagoa emphasized the difference in detail between the two circuit court orders. She noted Eig’s order was only seven pages and lacked the analysis of Lindsey’s order, which had 77 findings of fact.

In defending Eig’s conclusion, Caro said the rule on specifying reasons for a ruling can include the hearing transcript. Caro said Eig conducted an extensive hearing and verbally went through all the issues raised in his counterpart’s written order.

Lindsey found the elements of the case overwhelmingly favored Italian jurisdiction.

The captain and crew were regulated by Italian authorities. The ship was built by an Italian company, and its design was approved by Italian authorities. The rescue and investigation were conducted by Italian authorities. Two-thirds of the passengers were Europeans. While Carnival was the parent of Costa Cruise, it was not involved in the hiring or operation of the ship.

Additionally, Lindsey conditioned the dismissal on Carnival’s promises to submit to Italian jurisdiction, its cooperation with discovery and reinstatement in Florida if the Italian court doesn’t take the case.

David Weiner of Hogan Lovells in Washington argued for the defendants. He also noted virtually all the relevant documents and testimony would be in Italian. Were the case to be tried in Florida, that would requiring translation. Also, the jury would not have the benefit of many live witnesses, instead relying on “stale” translated depositions.

The Costa Concordia, with 4,229 people aboard, ran aground off the coast of Giglio Island on Jan. 13, 2012. The wreck has been blamed on the captain’s poor judgment.

On Monday, relatives of the 32 victims held a Mass at Giglio Island’s church and threw wreaths into the sea.