'On the Record's' Legal Panel takes on the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, the ship's captain -- he's in deep trouble. Not only is he getting slammed in headlines across the globe, he is now under house arrest, accused of abandoning ship. An Italian judge has accused the captain of standing on the cliffs and watching the botched evacuation. So how much trouble is the captain in?

Our legal panel is here. Defense lawyers Bernie Grimm and Ted Williams join us. Maritime lawyer Ricardo Alsina also joins us. Ricardo, let me go first to you. How much trouble is this captain in?

RICARDO ALSINA, MARITIME ATTORNEY: He's in serious trouble. And aside from that, Costa may be in serious trouble. There's now -- appears to be some evidence that Costa's ships have been doing this before and that Costa did nothing to deter it from continuing to happen.

He was way off course. When the incident happened, he didn't follow protocol. And then -- you know, now he's saying that he tripped and fell off the ship into a lifeboat, but that's a little hard to believe.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe even absurd. Bernie, we've looked at the documents about the sort of the -- what the passengers signed before they got on board.


VAN SUSTEREN: Are you ever going to take a cruise ship and sign these documents?

GRIMM: No, I mean, you're listening to this chap we just had on, paid thousands of dollars and he's climbing down a rope ladder at night, trying to get into a lifeboat? Yes, I mean, you give up your claims for your -- for your personal property. But you can get $150 if -- if...

VAN SUSTEREN: A hundred and fifty dollars on the -- on the -- is what you get.

GRIMM: Yes, 150 bucks for personal property. But passenger safety is actually -- you get nothing for being injured on this boat. You don't get a dime. So this -- this -- it's beyond legal things. This -- this captain is just morally bankrupt. He should just be...

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is a separate issue from the sort of the legal claims you're talking about that the passengers have -- I mean, have lost by virtue of taking a ticket, signing it.

GRIMM: Right. Right. It says, If you want a ticket, you got to sign here. But it's just a disaster. I mean, the whole thing of, you know, I tripped and I fell into a lifeboat? That's like me falling off the stage and I'm in bed with Christie Brinkley! I mean, what are the chances of that?

TED WILLIAMS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, well, the unfortunate thing is that I think this ticket contract in and of itself is unconscionable. I mean, if you really take a look at it, the rights and the remedies of these passengers are going to perhaps be governed by Italian law in light of the fact that this ship was in Italian waters at the time. And the sad commentary is that they probably will not under maritime law be able to bring a claim in the United States because this boat, this ship did not touch -- and concern -- the United States, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Ricardo, probably the most appalling about this is that anyone -- you live in a state that does an awful lot of boating. For a couple grand, you get a depth finder, you can get radar, you get GPS, you can get everything else. You don't even -- you know, I mean, and anything to -- you know, it's really so you got to go out of your way to do something like this.

ALSINA: You're cutting in and out.


ALSINA: Yes. I'm getting in my ear something about traffic and President Obama. I didn't really hear your question.


VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know why you're getting traffic and President Obama. But let me go back to you guys.

This captain -- what do you for him?

WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, he's not a captain. He's a coward! Him and his crew, let's define them as to what they are. They are cowards! Now, the bottom line is they very well may be under Italian law be able to charge with negligence as we have it here. That would be the unintentional death of these individuals who died.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess beware when you sign these documents, though.

GRIMM: Beware when you sign the documents. And also, Greta, I mean, you go out -- I was just in Florida months ago fishing, and you get a depth finder from Garmin for about 200 bucks and it shows you exactly the depth and rock formations and everything.

I trust Courtney's report from Italy, but I mean, bad luck? I mean, I'd yield to Ricardo, but this guy was way off course. And he brought an entire ship the size of a skyscraper, about the Trade Center when it was standing, to bring it in so he could wave to a friend on shore?

VAN SUSTEREN: Ricardo, do the passengers, the American passengers on this ship -- do they have any sort of recourse? Can they get beyond some of the waivers in these tickets and all the things they've signed away?

ALSINA: Unfortunately not. Even here -- if you actually look at the language of the ticket, you will see that even if you are a Costa vessel sailing out of a U.S. port, there are limitations on your rights because it's a foreign-flagged vessel and your ticket is your contract. People don't read them. They assume it's safe. They assume it's going to be OK. And they don't realize that they're basically waiving all their rights when they sign these tickets. We see this all the time. And the federal courts here are enforcing these limitations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ricardo, that's the question I was going to ask you because I know, Ricardo, that you handle these cases. Are all these -- these sort of waivers, so this is sort of standard operating procedure -- even -- even ships that carry -- that have the American flag on them?

ALSINA: Well, first of all, there aren't any ships with American flags that do cruising anymore. The last American-flagged cruise vessel was the American Hawaiian cruises, which went out of businesses after 9/11. All the cruise ships that are in business today all fly flags of convenience. And all of them have, you know, stuff in their contracts that limit your rights.

For example, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Disney -- all of those ships use foreign doctors. And if the doctor makes a mistake and you try to sue them, unless you can attach the doctor himself and get jurisdiction over the doctor, you're out of luck. You're only suing the cruise line, and they're going to say, Hey, we're not responsible for what the doctor does. He's an independent contractor. Sorry you got bad medical care on our ship.

VAN SUSTEREN: Gentlemen, thank you. And passengers, think twice when you sign things.