Photo courtesy of rvongher
Photo courtesy of rvongher

It’s being compared to a modern-day version of the Titanic shipwreck.

On Jan. 13, the Carnival Cruise Lines Inc.-owned Italian ship Costa Concordia struck a rock near the shore of the small Italian island Giglio, tearing a large hole in the ship’s hull that caused it to capsize. The accident occurred just as passengers were sitting down to dinner, and panic soon ensued. With minimal direction from the ship’s crew, the ship’s 4,200 passengers fought to get onto lifeboats, and some jumped into the sea.

Today the Italian media raised the official death toll to 11, with 29 passengers still missing. Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino was arrested the day after the accident. He stands accused of manslaughter and abandoning ship before everyone on board had been evacuated.

It’s likely that some of the victims will pursue litigation against the cruise ship’s operators. But legal experts say American victims won’t be able to sue in the U.S. because the contracts written into the ship’s tickets state that lawsuits must be brought in Genoa, Italy. Experts also say Carnival probably won’t face criminal liability in the U.S. because the accident happened in Italian waters.

“In the case of Costa, the litigation in the United States is going to be severely limited,” Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkelman Shareholder Jason Margulies told Thomson Reuters.

Although U.S. citizens have tried to challenge similar contracts in the past, arguing that litigating in a foreign country is too burdensome, maritime law experts say courts usually uphold the cruise ships’ contracts. Nonetheless, some lawyers say the unique circumstances of the Costa Concordia accident may challenge this tendency and allow victims to bring suit in the U.S. for minimal damages.