Miami FL February 9, 2012 – Half submerged off the western coast of Italy, the Costa Concordia cruise ship is an all-too-vivid reminder that the international cruise industry is in dire need of safety reforms, says veteran Miami injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson. Indeed, the industry, says the long-time advocate for cruise ship injury victims, has operated for decades in a regulatory vacuum that has left crew certifications and training lacking — and put passengers at risk.
“One hundred years after the Titanic nothing has changed,” says Gerson, the senior partner at Miami’s Gerson & Schwartz. “The way the industry operates, it is a disaster waiting to happen, and on the night of January 13 that, unfortunately, is exactly what we got. After the ship grounded and lives were lost and saved, there was a great focus on the actions, or inactions, of the captain. But as the investigation continues, what we’re seeing now is the crux of the problem in the cruise industry today: inadequately trained crews and a regulatory black hole. It’s something that should have been fixed decades ago.”
On the surface, the cruise industry is all glamour and luxury, floating hotel palaces on the seas. But behind the scenes, says Gerson, a longtime advisor to the International Cruise Victims Association, the picture is far less rosy. “Crew members are generally not long-term employees of a specific cruise line, but independent contractors who sign aboard for a few months at a time, and often move from vessel to vessel, cruise line to cruise line,” says Gerson. “Crews are poorly paid and inadequately trained. And what compounds the problem is that there is scant regulation and enforcement. A crew member who is ill-prepared for an emergency on his first cruise will likely be ill-prepared on his fiftieth cruise. He’ll move from ship to ship and operators have little incentive to foot the cost of his training — and often, little legal obligation.”
As the Costa Concordia investigation unfolds, it is becoming clear, says Gerson, that a poorly trained crew was a primary factor contributing to the tragedy. “What we are hearing, both from official channels and from Costa Concordia passengers who have contacted our firm, is that many crew members just didn’t know what to do. They were telling passengers to return to their cabins, that it was just an electrical fault, when it was, of course, an urgent emergency. There were heroic crew members, to be sure, but by and large, the people who survived did so because of their own good judgment.”
As details of the disaster and its aftermath emerge, the public will get a full picture of training and safety deficiencies that not only plagued the crew of the Costa Concordia, but the entire cruise ship industry, says Gerson. “We have to make the changes that should have been made years ago,” says the veteran Miami injury lawyer. “First, we have to have uniform, mandatory, and strictly enforced certifications of competence and ongoing training for all cruise ship crew members. And it has to be done on an international level, not the loose, lax, piecemeal regulatory structures that exist — in some places, for some crew — today.”
The next step, says Gerson, is to eliminate the current liability caps that limit the financial responsibility of ship operators. “These caps are not only unfair and unrealistic, but dangerous. If a ship’s operator has little fear of liability, they have little incentive to strengthen their safety training requirements, because doing so costs money. As the catastrophe off the coast of Italy makes clear, without the prospect of substantial liability, safety and training will be compromised. It’s time to change that — and changing the laws will be a big step in the right direction.”
About Gerson & Schwartz
Founded in 1970 by Miami personal injury lawyer Philip M. Gerson, the law firm of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., has spent the past four decades protecting, and vindicating, the rights of individuals who have suffered serious harm — from automobile accidents to medical malpractice to cruise ship injuries. In the process, the firm has become recognized as “Top Lawyers” by the South Florida Business Review, and recognized widely for its work with public interest groups like the International Cruise Victims Association and the National Center for Victims of Crime. To learn more about the trial lawyers of Gerson & Schwartz, visit www.injuryattorneyfla.com