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Harry Smith on Rock Center: Fine Print Immunities Result In 'Goliath' Fight Against Cruise Industry

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Image Source: Rex Feautres via Guardian.co.ukVeteran reporter Harry Smith (@HarrySmithNBC) on Rock Center reported last week that six months after the Costa Concordia cruise ship wreck disaster, some of the survivors are fighting the settlements offered and sounding the alarm that cruise passengers have fewer rights than many realize.

Most cruise ships – even those operated by American cruise companies – are registered in foreign countries, which not only provides tax advantages to the corporate owners, but also puts the ships outside U.S. jurisdiction once they're just a few miles off shore.

In addition to applying foreign law over their cruise ships, the industry also utilizes what are known as adhesion contracts – the fine print that may or may not be printed on the back of your cruise ticket (or airline ticket, or amusement park ticket, or cell phone contract, or rental car agreement, or video store membership, and on and on) to further limit their liability.

Few passengers on the Costa Concordia "had a clue than when they bought their tickets they were agreeing the cruise line would have very limited legal liability."

– Harry Smith, Rock Center

This fine print is "extraordinarily fine" and often buried not on the ticket, but at some other location. Said an attorney representing some of the Costa Concordia passengers: "When you get on a ship, you are covered by the limitations that the law of that ship wants to apply to you and you can't even find out what those limitations are unless and until you book your trip and you've paid for it and you've already accepted those limitations."

So in order to find out what the actual terms and conditions are, I have to accept, not only buy my ticket, but accept the terms of agreement in order to find out what the terms of agreement actually are.

– Harry Smith, Rock Center

According to Carnival Cruise Lines – the Costa Concordia's parent corporation – the lives of the 32 people killed in this preventable tragedy are worth only $75,000. Carnival, predictably, declined Rock Center's request for an interview.

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Until the United States Congress gets involved and returns rights to individual states and ensures cruise operators will be responsible in the United States for their negligent conduct, these adhesion contracts will continue to proliferate. In 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States drastically undercut state's rights in favor of federal preemption in protecting even unconscionable terms in the adhesion contracts – contracts in which one side has unequal bargaining power and issues a "take-it-or-leave-it" demand to the other side. If you have purchased a cell phone, airline ticket, movie ticket, amusement park ticket, cable TV, Internet service, computer software, etc. , you most likely have been subject to an adhesion contract.

Such contracts can effectively permit corporations to write their own immunity rules, leaves many injured victims without any available recourse, raises troubling federalism concerns and abandons key protections of states' rights.

[These] agreements undermine our indelible Constitutional right to trial by jury, benefiting powerful businesses at the expense of American consumers and workers. Americans with few choices in the marketplace may unknowingly cede their rights when they enter contracts to buy a home or cell phone, place a loved one in a nursing home, or start a new job. We must fight to defend our rights….

– Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04)

[More on Your 7th Amendment Rights]

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

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