It has been four years since the tragic disappearance of George Smith from Brilliance of the Seas while on his honeymoon with Jennifer Hagel Smith. The case continues to unfold and in fact was in the news again the week of June 8th. Why? The probate court in Connecticut unsealed the records of the hearing that resulted in a judge’s ruling that the settlement between Royal Caribbean and the estate was fair and reasonable and in the best interests of all of the beneficiaries, including both Jennifer Hagel and the Smith family. The Smith family has appealed that ruling to a Connecticut Superior Court and is also challenging Jennifer’s right to continue as personal representative of the estate.
Normally I would not comment on this development, even to reiterate the following two variations on what we’ve been saying for four years. First, the released information once again demonstrates that we acted properly in assisting Jennifer Hagel and the Smith family in the aftermath of their tragic loss. Second, during the investigation of Mr. Smith’s disappearance, Royal Caribbean provided complete support, assistance and cooperation to the FBI, including the provision of all documents and materials that were requested. Moreover, during the original probate proceedings, Royal Caribbean released all of the relevant facts to the public regarding George Smith’s disappearance, with the exception of certain information the FBI asked the company not to disclose to protect its investigation. The newly released documents do not add anything new to what was previously known about this tragedy.
The proposed settlement has gone through an exhaustive legal review and analysis by a neutral and experienced judge and accordingly Royal Caribbean believes it is time for the settlement to be implemented as negotiated and for the healing process to replace the litigation process for Jennifer Hagel and the Smith family. I am frustrated that we have not been allowed to pay the money we agreed to pay two years ago and worse that the settlement is being eaten up by unnecessary legal fees.
Many readers know that Jennifer Hagel and I met, unintentionally, on the set of the Oprah Winfrey show in January, 2006. Despite my assumption that in her eyes I was akin to Darth Vader, we struck up a conversation on the set that led eventually to the settlement and to mutual respect. My opinion is that Jennifer’s handling of this endless and tortured litigation with its attendant unfavorable publicity has been admirable. Just as importantly, Royal Caribbean has considerably enhanced how we provide guest (and crew) care in both emergency and non-emergency situations throughout our fleet, in part due to the mature and professional way in which Jennifer has suggested possible improvements in our processes and procedures. In addition, she followed through on a commitment she expressed two years ago to devote herself to community service and now works full time raising funds to combat Parkinson’s disease.
The basic fact of this tragedy – the disappearance of George Smith – cannot change. But some good has already come from it. Hopefully more good and less controversy and litigation is forthcoming.