The AP is reporting that a final settlement has been reached between Royal Caribbean and the wife and family of George Smith IV. Royal Caribbean has paid the families and their counsel $1,310,000. The cruise line has also turned over copies of certain investigation materials to the families.
The settlement arises out of an incident on July 5, 2005, when Mr. Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey. Mr. Smith was on his honeymoon with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel, following their wedding the week before.
Before the cruise ended, the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, quickly concluded that Mr. Smith’s death was an accident. However, when photographs of Mr. Smith’s blood on an awning below Mr. Smith’s cabin began appearing on nightly television, the U.S. public began to question exactly what happened that night.
Mr. Smith’s bride, Jennifer Hagel, hired our firm to represent the estate of her husband. In turn, we retained a number of experts including forensic scientist Henry Lee to board the cruise ship and assist us in searching for answers. Two Congressional hearings were convened, in December 2005 and March 2006, to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the cruise line’s response to Mr. Smith’s disappearance. Subsequent Congressional hearings into passenger disappearances and cruise ship crime followed in 2007 and 2008.
In June 2006, our client Jennifer Hagel reached a proposed settlement with Royal Caribbean on behalf of her husband’s estate in the amount of $1,060,000 and an agreement by the cruise line to turn over its investigation materials to the Smith and Hagel families. The Smith family objected to the settlement.
In 2008, a Probate Court in Greenwich, Connecticut approved the settlement – finding that is was reasonable and in the best interests of all concerned. The Smith family again objected to the Probate Court’s order and the Smith family and Ms. Hagel have been litigating in Superior Court in Connecticut for the past two years.
The civil and probate cases are now settled. Royal Caribbean increased its settlement offer by $250,000. The cruise line has also made its investigation materials available to the families as originally agreed to in June 2006.
Mr. Smith’s disappearance brought much needed attention to the issue of mysterious overboard passengers and shipboard crime. These events set the stage for an unprecedented five Congressional hearings leading to President Obama’s signing of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act.
To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has not concluded what happened in Mr. Smith’s cabin in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005. One of the four men last seen with Mr. Smith on the morning of July 5th, Gregory Rozenberg, is serving time in prison for drug trafficking.
The AP article indicates that the FBI investigation is officially "open and active."
The Greenwich Time, which was one of the first newspapers to cover the story in July 2005, published an article today "Smith Family Hopes for Answers After Cruise Ship Case Settles."
January 6, 2012 Update: