Defective Design and the Costa Concordia

Carnival Corporation, and its subsidiary, Costa Cruises, face an onslaught of litigation relating to the January 2012 accident in which a Costa Concordia Cruse Ship ran aground and capsized.  Shocking, right?   The most recent lawsuit filed in Florida state court alleges, among other things, a products liability claim alleging the ship’s hull and power systems were defectively designed.

I’ve always looked at those mammoth cruise ships that resemble high-rise condos stuck on a barge and thought they were an accident waiting to happen.  But, then again, I know nothing about ships.

Based on a press release from the Plaintiffs’ attorneys, it appears that they will float (pun intended) the theory that the Concordia depended on stabilizers to keep it from rolling over in an emergency situation, but those stabilizers were of no help when the ship lost power.   Ergo: defective design.  The release states that Carnival was aware of problems when in February 2010 the hull of Carnival’s Costa Europa was punctured against a dock which created a small hole 6 foot that caused to ship flood and list.  It further states that in November 2010,  the Carnival Splendors ship was stranded off the coast of Mexico due to a catastrophic failure of a generator in one of the engine rooms as well as the failure of a backup generator.

The blogosphere is already analyzing the liability claims in this matter. Again, I’m no seaman, but a purported naval architect and the author of The Old Salt blog finds such a theory is way off base.   He notes that, in spite of their name, stabilizers on cruise ships have almost nothing to do with the stability of the ship.  He believes that ultimately the design did not cause the Concordia to capsize.  Apparently, “[a]ny ship suspended on rocky ledges at the bow and stern with the midships no longer supported by the buoyancy of the water, will roll one way or another.”  Who would have thought that hitting a huge rock, as opposed to a defective design, could have been the cause of the collision?


  1. The Old Salt link broken

  2. Oh, just noticed the extra http:// at the end.

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  5. The gyroscopic stabilizers on a ship are for the comfort of the passengers. They prevent excessive roll (rotation around the longitudinal axis). The stability of the ship is dependent on the relative locations of the center of buoyancy and the center of gravity of the ship, and although I was not there and never analyzed this specific ship, I would have to believe that the ship was seaworthy and could sail through a tropical storm with no problem from a stability standpoint. It is not the design standard to ensure that the ship will not roll over on its side when it runs aground. In fact it can’t be done, unless you have a barge, and even then there is no guarantee. Also, all ships can be torn open when running aground. No design flaw here.
    If the ship’s builder were brought into the lawsuit and I were the judge, I would make the plaintiff’s attorney personally pay all their legal fees, sanction that attorney, and personally file a complaint with the disciplinary committee since complaints from the bench are actually acted upon.
    Running a ship aground under the circumstances in this case is prima facie negligent, possibly grossly negligent. The cruise line should probably concede liability and move on to damages.