Starting this month, I will begin to regularly post photos and videos sent by crew members to us showing the actual working and living conditions of the crew. The photos and video will be a glimpse into actual "ship life," like the incredible amount of cleaning that needs to be accomplished in the galley after the second seating is over.
The identities of the crew will, of course, remain confidential.
The motto of this blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." Our main goal is to educate the public about dangers on cruise ships and in ports of call that the cruise industry would like to keep secret. It's exciting to see that many people become a fan of our Facebook page.
Our Facebook page is primarily non-U.S. readers.
Who are the top readers outside of the U.S.? In order they are from India, Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Indonesia, Venezuela, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Myanmar, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Croatia, Macedonia, and many other countries.
Lots of crew members send us information, video and photos of what really happens on cruise ships. (We keep the identity of the crew confidential). We have learned that "ship life" is a lot different from what the cruise lines and travel agents represent.
The readership of this blog has taken off this year. So far, we have had over 1,000,000 different people who have read over 3,500,000 pages of Cruise Law News, We are on schedule to have over 7,000,000 pages read by over different 2,000,000 people this year.
Why the reference to "150,000 fans can't be wrong?" It's a take-off on the famous 1959 Elvis Presley album "50,000,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong." (Yes, I'm one of those fans).
Thanks to everyone who like our Facebook page, read my articles, and leave comments! I'm always pleased to answer any questions from crew members free of charge and without obligation.
We broke a number of stories that the cruise industry would prefer that you didn't know. We published videos of MSC crew members dumping plastic garbage bags in a marine sanctuary in Brazil. A number of news organizations in the U.K., Switzerland, and Australia & New Zealand republished them around the world.
We appeared in over 100 newspapers articles and on CNN, ABC and other television and radio programs. Our motto is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know," so don't expect to see glossy photos of idyllic cruise vacations here.
The problem of passengers and crew members disappearing on the high seas continued throughout 2014. ABC News featured us in an investigation why the cruise lines are refusing to install man overboard systems in compliance with the Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act. A few cruise lines, like Holland America Line (HAL), claim that they are testing man-overboard technology but just last week a crew member disappeared from the HAL Ryndam.
I was most pleased that Cruise Law News came in as number six (and the only blog written by a lawyer) out of the top twenty national cruise blogs selected by USA Today, in a national poll of cruise fans.
Our Facebook page has over 135,000 followers, mostly crew members as well as cruise passengers and travel agents who wish to remain anonymous. We receive many thousand of comments a month. We routinely receive real-time insights into problems on cruise ships from passengers and the crew.
Thanks for reading us in 2014. And many thanks to the passengers and crew members who sent us tips, info and videos from the high seas.
Cruise Law News just celebrated our five year anniversary.
It's difficult to remember a time when we did not have a blog to comment on the ins-and-outs of the cruise industry and the ports of call where the cruise ships unload their passengers. Since 2009, I've written over 2,100 articles and received over 8,000 comments from our readers.
In 2014, Cruise Law News has been mentioned in over one hundred newspapers, television programs, cable news program, and radio shows. We have broken many stories that the cruise industry would have preferred that we not mention, such as MSC Cruises dumping garbage bag in the seas, Royal Caribbean exploiting its crew members and Carnival cutting employment programs that existed for years while the cruise CEO's racked in the cash.
Our motto remains writing about "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know," and we believe that we have lived up to that goal.
Our blog is ranked the fourth most popular law blog in the United States and the number one law blog authored by a law firm as opposed to a for-profit commercial website.
A year ago at our fourth year anniversary, I wrote that "1,000,000 different people read over 3,500,000 pages of our blog in the last 12 months." We have far exceeded those numbers in 2014. In just the first four days of this month alone, over 86,000 unique users have read over 239.000 pages of our website. We have a readership which substantially exceeds the paid circulation of the newspaper of the town where I was born.
Our Facebook page has over 126,000 followers, mostly crew members as well as cruise passengers and travel agents who wish to remain anonymous. We receive many thousand of comments a month. We routinely receive real-time insights into problems on cruise ships from passengers and the crew.
You either love us or hate us.
I receive more than my fair share of hate e-mail. However, many people write to us and thank us for bringing attention to issues such as crew members working 12 hour a day for just $550 a month or sexual assaults of children on the "fun ships," the cruise industry's dirtiest secret. We warn passengers about crime in the tropical ports of call where the cruise lines collect millions of dollars of tax-free money.
We have followed our clients to testify before Congress to advocate in support of legislation to protect cruise passengers and write about the experiences as they occur.
There's always the other side of the cruise story. We try to be the first to tell it.
According to the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), more cruise passengers have sailed in Florida and around the world than ever before.
Last year, the number of passengers taking cruises on North American cruise lines increased approximately nearly 4 percent to 17,600,000.
6,150,000 passengers sailed from Florida, an increase of 1.3 percent to 6.15 million from the prior year. Miami saw more than 2 million cruise passengers boarding ships, and Fort Lauderdale saw more than 1,800,000 passengers.
Florida also remains the lawsuit capital of the world against cruise lines.
Most cruise lines insist that lawsuits involving injuries to cruise passengers must be filed in Florida. Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea Cruises require in their "forum selection clauses" that passengers file suit in this state of they are injured or a victim of a crime during the cruise.
It doesn't matter where the cruise departed from (a different state or even country), the passenger tickets of these cruise lines state that their guests must pursue their cases here in Florida.
Several years ago, the Miami Herald published an article "Lawyers Turn Cruise Lawsuits Into Industry." The article stated that between 2001 and 2006, over 2,100 lawsuits were filed against the Miami based cruise lines - Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.
The article begins:
"How many lawyers does it take to sue a cruise line?
Only one, or one too many if you're the cruise line.
The $25 billion-a-year cruising industry has faced more lawsuits than it cares to count over the past few decades -- some 2,100 in South Florida alone since 2001.
Many are filed by a small group of lawyers -- about 15 locally -- who specialize in representing injured cruise passengers and crew members and make up a thriving cottage industry in South Florida."
The article mentioned that I was one of the "big three" leading adversaries of cruise lines.
I have not seen an analysis of lawsuits recently, but we know that the number of people cruising since 2006 has increased substantially.
The cruise ships have gotten bigger and bigger and the fleets have grown substantially.
There has also been an unprecedented number of cruise ship disasters which have plagued the cruise industry as of late.
Every single day we receive a telephone call, or an email, or a Facebook inquiry, or a comment to this blog about a serious cruise ship injury.
In the last few days, we filed:
a lawsuit when a child from Mexico was seriously injured on the Flow Rider;
an arbitration claim on behalf of an Indian crew member (waiter) with a serious back injury who was denied appropriate medical care;
a lawsuit by a Canadian passenger whose finger was amputated by a cabin door which slammed shut due to a wind current from an open balcony door; and
an arbitration claim filed on behalf of a crew member who was denied medical treatment from the cruise line for advanced Hodgkin's Disease.
Yes, most people have a fun time on a cruise vacation. But many passenger and crew members become seriously injured or denied appropriate medical treatment during cruises, particularly crew members from around the world.
USA TODAY / 10 BEST announced the winners today in the "10Best Readers’ Choice New Media Award for Best Cruise Blogger."
An initial list of 20 cruise bloggers was selected by a panel of experts. The experts were USA TODAY Cruise Log blogger Gene Sloan, long-time Cruise Diva Linda Coffman, Doug Parker with Cruise Radio, and Stewart Chiron a/k/a The Cruise Guy. All of these expert bloggers could have been picked as top 5 cruise bloggers themselves.
After the initial list of 20 was selected, the "top 10" cruise bloggers were determined by popular vote. John Heald (photo right), the witty Cruise Director for Carnival, seems to have won in a land-slide.
Our blog came in 6th place, not a bad result considering that many people consider me the "anti-cruise" blogger. I am surprised that Cruise Law News was voted that high.
I voted for Peter Knego's blogs on Maritime Matters.
Thanks to everyone who voted for us.
Yes, it's true that our blog is often viewed as "negative." But the voting proves that there are cruise fans out there who like to hear the "con" as well as the "pro" aspects of cruising and understand that being forewarned is being forearmed!
Last month, 247,433 people read 843,370 pages of Cruise Law News (per Google Analytics). That's a record month for us.
If our readership continues to grow, as it has done over the years, we are on track to having 3,000,000 people reading over 10,000,000 pages of our blog a year.
Our blog is currently the number three most popular law blog in the U.S. (via Alexa) and the number one most popular law blog in the U.S. written by a practicing lawyer (again via Alexa).
The motto of our blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." If you want idyllic images of perfect cruise ship vacations to tropical paradises, stick to the travel publications and cruise fan blogs. We offer a glimpse into the world of cruising that the cruise executives prefer you not know.
The majority of our Facebook fans are from outside of the U.S. We have tens of thousands of crew members who have "liked" us. We receive a great deal of information from crew members regarding a wide range of issues, like cruise ship fires, engine failures, man-overboard situations and the tough working conditions which crew members face.
Thank you very much for reading our page and providing information to us! Our success would not be possible without the support of crew members on cruise ships around the world!
We have over 11,900 people following us on Twitter and many thousands of people who subscribe to our daily blog, Cruise Law News, via e-mail & RSS subscriptions.
Over 6,250,000 pages of Cruise Law News are projected to be read this year.
The motto of our blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."
No, we are not a travel site with glossy photos of happy crew members and smiling passengers enjoying a dream vacation cruise. The fact that millions of people are reading a critical blog by a lawyer (lawyers often write boring, stuffy articles) reflects that there are a lot of things that happen on cruises which the public wants to know and the cruise lines want to keep secret.
What are the top law blogs? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Everyone has an opinion, at least lawyers who have blogs do.
I'm listing the supposedly most popular law blogs based on supposedly objective criteria, using the Alexa ranking system which ranks blogs and websites based primarily on popularity. How many people actually click on the site, view a number of pages and actually stay for a while?
Alexa ranks over 30,000,000 sites. Alexa assigns a numerical ranking to each website. The most popular sites have the lowest numbers.
Google is ranked number 1, Facebook is number 2, and so forth. The highest ranked stand-alone law blog is ranked around 28,000. The lowest ranked blog is ranked over 20,000,000. If you're a law blogger and ranked under 200,000, your blog is popular.
If your ranking is over 1,000,000, sorry to tell you. No one is reading your blog. If you are in the 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 category, I suggest giving up.
If you are interested in seeing your site's ranking, go to the Alexa website and click on the "Toolbar" link at the top to download.
The top 10 blogs which I listed below are mostly ranked 100,000 or lower. They are popular and widely read. I listed their rankings as of the date of this publication. I have also mentioned whether they are advertising (desperate) or soliciting money (truly desperate). I have tried to identify the primary editor or writer.
10. SCOTUS (107,715) (advertising - Bloomberg Law) Two dozen people smarter than me writing minutia about Supreme Court decisions. Super popular when the Supremes are publishing cases.
9. Patently O (105,835) (advertising) Law professors writing about patents. I remember why I hated law school.
8. China Law Blog (100,256) The blog of Seattle lawyer, Dan Harris, of the Harris Moure law firm. Why isn't it also written in Chinese?
7. Volokh Conspiracy (92,779) (advertising) A butt-ugly site written by two dozen brainiac professors who need to get laid. I'm not sure who reads this erudite stuff. It recently moved to the Washington Post.
6. Althouse (78,079) (advertising) (solicits money) I don't get this site. A law professor, Ann Althouse, writes and posts photos and videos. She shares a photo of the side of her head. Random. Quirky.
5. Lawyerist (65,914) (heavy advertising) A nice site, mostly it seems written by Sam Glover about law practice technology, management, and marketing, also offering services to build web sites, since 2007.
4. Food Safety News (60,812) This is one of the truly amazing law blogs by Seattle lawyer Bill Mahler who handles food poisoning cases. He is a great guy and a super lawyer. He surrounds himself with a very talented team to publish this really good stuff.
3. Cruise Law News (59,871) My blog Cruise Law News. "Everything the Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know" is our motto. "Why do I want to know that?" most people may be thinking.
2. Legal Insurrection (45,434) (incredibly heavy advertising)(solicits money)(multiple writers) A law professor at Cornell oversees this gaudy conservative blog. Annoying, bizarre banner ads, like this lady-in-the-tight-dress Google ad which links to a rant against President Obama. Go figure.
1. Above the Law (28,096) (advertising) (multiple editors and writers) This number one law blog caters to big firm news, in-house counsel at major corporations, law school rankings and issues of largely no relevance to most lawyers' practices. Typical topics involve new partners at top 10 national firms, salaries in New York, and who'll be the next Supreme Court clerks. I suppose first year associates at Skadden Arps gossip about these important issues over their 15 minute lunches at their desks?
This week marks the 4th year anniversary of starting my blog Cruise Law News (CLN).
I've written 1,585 articles, which averages out to be over one per day. We have received over 4,700 comments to our articles, mostly from U.S. readers. Google Analytics tell us over 1,000,000 different people have read over 3,500,000 pages of our blog in the last 12 months. The blog has come a long way since September 2009 when barely 5,000 people read CLN.
According to the AVVO ranking system, CLN is currently ranked the 10th most popular law blog in the U.S. Of the nine blogs more popular than ours, five are written by law professors and four are for-profit, monetized blogs which accept advertising which you will never see here. So you can make the argument that CLN is the most popular law blog written by one lawyer who actually practices law.
CLN reached an international audience when I started my Cruise Law News Facebook page last year and began posting the CLN articles on Facebook. The result has been fantastic. Around 70,000 fans follow us on Facebook. We are growing exponentially. We have more readers whose languages are primarily non-English than English readers.
The top countries where our CLNFacebook followers are from are India, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and then the U.S. The next five most popular countries are Turkey, Romania, Croatia, Italy and Chile.
The stories we cover here on CLN are genuine, dramatic and often disturbing. They are not fiction.
Several years ago, Kevin O'Keefe, the founder and CEO of Seattle-based LexBlog, which designed and hosts our blog, came to Miami to meet some of the Miami bloggers who are part of his network. During dinner, O'Keefe asked me why I liked to blog. Instantly I told him that a half-dozen of my clients have testified before Congressional committees in Washington D.C. about being victimized on cruise ships. Their stories, about ship fires, loved ones lost at sea, and cruise crime, are riveting. Their causes deserved a larger audience. And I wanted to tell their compelling stories and promote their causes on a national and international basis.
So why has Cruise Law News been so successful you may ask?
In Jonas Sachs' book Winning the Story Wars, the author explains that those who tell the best stories will be successful. Sachs defines "best" as those authentic stories which inspire compassion and hope and bring about positive social change.
Our stories are about the little man taking on the big corporation, such as $500-a-month cruise employees from India working over 360 hours a month standing up to the abuses of multi-national companies based here in Miami. We write about grass roots victims' groups enacting legislation over the fierce opposition and dirty tricks of huge, billion-dollar tax-avoiding cruise corporations. Many of our stories are about women, both passengers and crew, taking on the male-dominated cruise industry.
There are many social media experts who say that the key to a successful blog is to consistently and genuinely demonstrate passion about an issue. That's true. But it's not enough. Whether your blog sells a product or promotes a cause, an author needs a compelling story to tell.
That's where I have a distinct advantage over other lawyers and bloggers. I realize that the stories here on CLN are not mine. I am just a storyteller. The stories are the only reason my articles are widely read and CLN is closely followed. The stories are of our clients and friends who have endured unimaginable events while cruising, of all things. Stories like being sexually assaulted during cruise vacations, or losing a parent or a spouse or a child on the high seas. And in a time of despair and desperation, many of these nice people face corporate deceit or heartless indifference of the worst kind. These stories must be told.
This morning Cruise Law News hit a milestone when the 50,000th person "liked" our Facebook page.
The motto of this blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." One of our main goals is to educate the public about dangers and problems on cruise ships that the cruise industry would like to keep secret. So it's exciting to see that many people become a fan of our Facebook page.
We post most of our blogs on Facebook as well as links to other sites which write about newsworthy (and sometimes not so newsworthy) events in the crazy world of cruising. Unlike our other social media pages like Twitter which has almost exclusively a U.S. audience, our Facebook Cruise-Law-News page has primarily non-U.S. readers.
Who are the top readers outside of the U.S.? In order they are from India, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey, Croatia and Serbia, as well as many other countires.
Why the reference to "50,000 fans can't be wrong?" It's a take-off on the famous Elvis Presley album "50,000,000 Elvis fans can't be wrong." (OK so I'm only 49,950,000 behind Elvis).
Thanks to everyone who like our Facebook page, read our articles, and leave comments!
For the longest time, our involvement with social media involved mostly this blog and our feed on Twitter, CruiseLaw.
What I have observed this year is that our Twitter feed (with over 10,000 followers) is largely followed by cruise passengers, travel agents and cruise line employees. Most of the people on Twitter who follow us reside in the U.S. In contrast, our facebook page is mostly "liked" by many thousands of crew members from around the world. We have made friends with lots of crew members from India, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Jamaica on facebook.
The other thing that I have noticed is that crew members and other friends from outside the U.S. are far more likely to interact with us on facebook. They leave comments on facebook. The people who read our articles and interact with us on facebook far outreach the number of people who socialize with us on twitter or contact us after subscribing to this blog.
For example, after a number of crew members went overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships a few months ago, I posted a couple of comments asking whether Royal Caribbean was working its crew members too hard. One of the posts was read by over 350,000 people on facebook. Another posting about the working conditions on Celebrity cruise ships was read by over 100,000 people. We also had many hundreds of comments to these articles, mostly by crew members who have first hand knowledge of what "ship life" is really like.
Crew members are the backbone of our law practice. Yes we have assisted many hundreds of cruise passengers over the years. But the majority of our clients are crew members (like the crew member above from Trinidad).
Whether they are crew members or not, the biggest supporters of this blog reside outside of the U.S. The last four people to "like" our page were "Raja" from India, "Natalija" from Croatia, "Novi" from Bosnia & Herzegovina, with "J.J." from South Africa being the 25,000th person to like our page. I have learned that the international community has a different perspective about things than Americans do. People outside the U.S. are far more sympathetic to the hard times many crew members face. Most Americans, on the other hand, just want a nice cruise vacation. Long hours and low pay are not their concerns.
Crew members often leave us messages on facebook, asking us for help or informal advice about their rights on cruise ships. Often crew members from places like India, Indonesia or the Caribbean islands have no one to turn to for information while working long contracts on the high seas far away from home. Problems with supervisors, long hours, bad medical care, prejudice & sexual harassment put crew members in a stressful situation. We are pleased to respond without any obligation. We hope that we can help you.
Our blog is read over a million times each year. Thanks for helping us spread the word on facebook. If you have information about working conditions on cruise ships and things that need fixing in the cruise industry, send us tips. We promise to maintain your confidentiality.
If you are a cruise ship employee, thanks for "liking" us on facebook and reading this blog. If it is helpful to you, recommend us to a friend. Share our articles with your past or present crew member friends. Help us get the word out about "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."
A couple of my friends on Twitter asked me about a maritime law blog in Miami which tweets under the Twitter handle @cruiseshiplaw. They were confused whether it was my blog, because it looked strikingly just like mine and had a similar name.
I clicked on the blog and, yes, it looks pretty much just like mine. A big white cruise ship in the upper right corner and the same blue theme.
Its a blog by my main competitor for cruise line clients. Very good lawyers no doubt. But why rip off my design?
I have an approach in life and in my blog to give credit where credit is due. So when I write about maritime lawyers in Miami winning cases against the cruise lines I credit them by name.
But this blog not only copied my design but actually writes about our cases. Look to the right and you can see the article "Carnival Cruise Lines May Be Liable For Child's Death." That's a precedent setting case against Carnival where we recently prevailed in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, which we wrote about earlier this month.
Ah another law firm sponging, mooching, free-loading and otherwise riding on our coattails.
I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
People ask me why I practice "cruise law." My answer? It's the most exciting type of law practice possible, like being in a movie - except it's the real world with real people.
Consider the news in the world of cruising this year.
A showboating and debonair Italian captain runs a $500 million luxury cruise liner into the rocks. He puts his blond girlfriend into one of the first lifeboats to safety. His officers announce on the PA system that "the situation is under control. Go back to your cabins." He abandons ship, claiming that his slipped and fell into a life boat. Passengers as young as 5 and as old as 70 then drown.
If this were a movie, no one would believe such an outrageous script.
Click on the TV and chances are you'll see Images of cruise ships adrift on the high seas. These are not rusting freighters from third world nations. They are the cruise lines' best, biggest, safest and most technologically advanced cruise ships carrying the most precious cargo in the world - your families.
This year alone we've seen cruise line abandonment of mariners in distress, abuse of crew members, capsizing, collisions, conspiracy, cover-ups, crimes, disappearances, engine failures, fires, groundings, and union busting involving Azamara, Carnival, Costa, MSC, Norwegian, P & O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Saga Cruises and many other cruise lines.
When a passenger or crew member is injured or a victim of crime on the high seas, the cruise lines are their worst enemy. The deceit and double-dealing by the cruise lines are right out of a bad movie script.
I have written over a thousand articles about bad behavior of cruise ship over the last couple of years.
There will be no end of the stories in the future.
Our firm is on the edge of the drama, always ready to help a cruise passenger in distress or a crew member needing medical care. In an industry which cares most about it's own image and reputation rather than your family's health and safety, we are always eager to help the underdog. In the process, we will expose "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know."
The Daily Business Review released "Top Verdicts & Settlements" for last year. You can click on the digital version here.
We obtained the highest award in an admiralty / maritime case in Florida in 2011. The case involved an injured crew member from Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas who the cruise line sent back to Serbia and then denied her appropriate medical care and treatment.
We flew our client to Miami and arranged for her to see a board certified orthopedic surgeon who recommended surgery. Royal Caribbean sent her to a local "litigation doctor" who never testifies that injured crewmembers need surgery.
The three arbitrators ruled that the cruise line failed to provide our client with a safe place to work and was 100% negligent for causing her accident.
The arbitrators also found that Royal Caribbean refused to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment to its injured cruise employee, and that its failure to authorize the necessary surgery "lacked any reasonable defense."
The arbitrators awarded our client $1,250,000, the highest amount in a crewmember case last year and the most ever in a cruise arbitration matter.
There has been a lot of news lately about cruise ship disasters, like ship fires, groundings and sinkings. But the most likely danger that a passenger, woman or child, faces during a cruise is rape.
Cruise ships are essentially floating cities. Increasingly larger floating cities at that. Like any city, a cruise ship has crime. Over the past decade the most likely crime on a cruise ship we have seen is rape.
Cruise lines deny that rapes occur frequently. Just two days ago the cruise lines issued a PR release stating that cruising is "absolutely safe." This is part of the problem. The cruise lines are so motivated to portray an image of an "absolutely safe" vacationexperience that they will go to great lengths to protect that marketing image, including cleaning crime scenes and covering the crimes up.
A decade ago, we obtained a confidential internal study (pursuant to a court order) in which one cruise line concluded that sexual crimes occurred "routinely" in its fleet of cruise ships. It then embarked on a campaign of representing to the public that such crimes were "rare."
During a series of Congressional hearings several years ago, the same cruise line told Congress that it had 66 rapes over a period of 3 years, for an average of 22 rapes a year. But during a court case, a trial court in Miami ordered the cruise to to produce its internal documents which revealed the truth - the cruise line actually 273 incidents of sexual assault, harassment and "inappropriate sexual touching."
All of the major cruise lines track sexual crimes and know that there are hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and battery each year during cruises.
Walker & O'Neill maritime lawyers in Miami handle cases exclusively cases against cruise lines.
Our firm has handled many sexual assault cases and molestation cases involving against Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
In the cases we have handled, the shipboard rapes were committed by a wide variety of cruise employees - staff captain, ship doctor, chief engineer, hotel director, security guard, cabin attendant, bartender, cleaner, and child supervisor. The sexual assaults occurred in various locations on the cruise ship, with the most common locations being the passenger cabin, storage room, and crew bathroom. The most likely assailant? A male cabin steward from a country outside of the U.S. where it is impossible to conduct a meaningful background check.
Don't expect the cruise lines to be your friend. They will take the side of their employees every time. And for a number of reasons, law enforcement, especially the FBI, has a terrible record of prosecuting crimes which occur on the high seas.
Jim Walker and Lisa O'Neill are both cum laude graduates from Duke University where they met 34 years ago. Jim attended Tulane Law School in New Orleans and has practiced maritime law since 1983. Lisa was a member of law review at the University of Florida Law School and has practiced law since 1985.
Jim and Lisa have represented several sexual assault cruise victims who testified before our U.S. Congress. These women were assaulted by a bartender, a part-time security guard and even a diving instructor during a cruise sponsored excursion.
Examples of settlements for cruise ship rape and molestation we obtained include: over $3,000,000, $2,500,000, $1,500,000, $1,000,000, $900,000, $650,000, $500,000, $385,000 and $250,000. (All cases are different, depending on the facts. These settlements may not be reflective of the reasonable compensation in your case).
Here are what people are saying about Jim:
"Top Maritime Lawyer" - ABA Journal.
"Top Cruise Lawyer" - USA Today.
"Prominent Private Practice Maritime Attorney" - Fox News.
"Prominent Cruise Plaintiff Attorney" - Law.com (America Law Media).
If you or your child were assaulted during a cruise, don't hire a lawyer who practices "cruise law" on a part time basis. Contact the Cruise Law attorneys in Miami and let us be your advocates.
If you have a situation to discuss, email us right away: email@example.com or call our toll free number for a free and confidential consultation: 1 800 256-1518.
Photo credits: Carnival cruise ship at Government Cut, Miami - Jim Walker
Walker & O'Neill maritime lawyers in Miami handle cases exclusively cases against cruise lines.
Our firm has handled many high profile cases involving cruise ship fires, sexual assaults against women and children, and disappearances of passengers and crew around the world. We routinely represent passengers across the United States in serious injury cases, against Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.
Jim Walker and Lisa O'Neill are both cum laude graduates from Duke University where they met 34 years ago. Jim attended Tulane Law School in New Orleans and has practiced maritime law since 1983. Lisa was a member of law review at the University of Florida Law School and has practiced law since 1985.
In the last couple months alone, the firm has appeared on numerous international television program and cruise documentaries. Jim was featured on ABC's 20/20 special on the Costa Concordia disaster. He appeared on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Sea" about passengers and crew members disappearing from cruise ships. Last month, Jim was featured on PBS's documentary "Disasters at Sea: Why Ships Sink" which looked at cruise disasters from the Titanic's sinking in 1912 to the current date. Here are what people are saying about Jim:
"Top Maritime Lawyer" - ABA Journal.
"Top Cruise Lawyer" - USA Today.
"Prominent Private Practice Maritime Attorney" - Fox News.
"Prominent Cruise Plaintiff Attorney" - Law.com (America Law Media)
In addition to a full time trial practice against cruise lines, the firm publishes this cruise law blog, which is the most popular maritime law and personal injury blog in the world (per AVVO / Alexa rankings). Cruise Law News ("Everything the Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know") has been described as a "Hard-Hitting Blog" by Miami's Daily Business Review.
If you or your family suffered a serious injury during a cruise, don't hire a lawyer who practices "cruise law" on a part time basis. Contact the Cruise Law attorneys in Miami and let us be your advocates.
If you have a situation to discuss, email us right away: firstname.lastname@example.org
After publishing Cruise Law News for the past two and one-half years, I decided to create a second blog: "Maritime Lawyer." It will cover maritime issues and events which don't involve cruise ships. I registered MaritimeLawyer.com long, long ago and will be using that domain for the new blog.
My friends at LexBlog are going to create and host the new blog. The LexBlog people created this blog. It has been far more successful and influential than I ever dreamed possible. Per Alexa, Cruise Law News (CLN) is ranked number 12 in the U.S. / Canada in terms of popularity of law blogs. There is only one other law blog published by a practicing lawyer (another LexBlog client, China Law Blog) ahead of CLN in terms of popularity (for what that's worth).
This year alone, CLN has been cited by a diverse group of media organizations, from tabloid bloggers like Perez Hilton to serious journalists like the reporters at the Wall Street Journal, PBS and Newsweek. CLN has led me to appearing on CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett, ABC's 20/20, NOVA, BBC Radio and Australia's Dateline in just the last three months. Our articles range from serious investigations into news the cruise line don't want you to know, to mundane legal issues about cruise law, to the bizarre, odd & weird things that happen on cruise ships.
My new blog will take a look into the larger world of maritime law of which cruise law is a small part. If the story involves a cruise ship, you will find it on CLN. But if a tugboat, tanker, trawler, bulk carrier, sailboat, yacht or fishing boat is involved, Maritime Lawyer will cover the story.
I will be also posting my maritime articles on a new Maritime Lawyer facebook page. This will be the first article posted on that new page. I have 6 "likes" so far on the facebook page; pretty pitiful. Drop by, "like" us, and post a comment.
Let us know what type of maritime stories you want us to cover . . . .
One of the interesting things about having a website or blog is that it is easy to see how many people are clicking on your site and reading your stuff.
Google Analytics is an easy (and free) program that lets me see how many people visit Cruise Law News, how long they stay and how many pages they look at. It interesting to see where the readers are based and what page they look at.
The analytics program has been around for years.
For the first four months of this year, 392,335 unique visitors have made 470,053 visits and looked at 1,385,586 pages. The Costa Concordia disaster brought in a number of new readers.
All types of statistics are available. One of the more interesting statistics is how many people are reading Cruise Law News blog on a regular basis as opposed to randomly appearing from search engine results and quickly leaving.
22,904 people have read the blog 9 or more times in the last four months. So I have a small town of people who are reading it over 2 times a month.
The most interesting statistic is that 2,296 people have each read Cruise Law News over 200 times since the beginning of the year. That's more than once a day for the past four month. Many leave comments or call or email me with tips for stories.
I'd like to think that Cruise Law News is providing information and a perspective that you can't anywhere else. Maybe, maybe not. Our motto is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know . . . "
If you are a daily reader, take a moment and leave a comment about what you like (and dislike) about the blog. Are there topics about the cruise industry which I am overlooking? Are there regular readers who would like to write a guest blog?
Be sure to subscribe by entering your email address in the box at the left, or sign up for our RSS feed. Like our facebook page too.
I returned to Miami from Washington DC this afternoon after attending the cruise safety hearings convened in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week.
These hearings were the sixth and seventh Congressional hearings regarding the issue of cruise ship dangers I have attended since 2005.
I met my friends and former clients in DC from the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization: ICV CEO Ken Carver, ICV President Jamie Barnett, and ICV Board member Laurie Dishman who has traveled to DC over 30 times.
Professor Ross Klein was invited to speak at the Senate hearing and he objectively laid out the cruise industry's history of cruise ship collisions, groundings, sinkings and fires. His written submission is the most impressively thorough and complete list of cruise ship related maritime disasters I have ever seen. Professor Klein's hard work and detailed analysis of cruise ship mishaps contrasted sharply with the self-serving opinions of the cruise line advocates who talked in conclusory phrases ("cruising is incredibly safe"). I will be linking to Professor Klein's research as soon as he uploads the information to his website.
During the hearings I met a half-dozen survivors of the Costa Concordia disaster, who traveled from Florida, Georgia and Massachusetts.
The hearings left me with a realization of the polarization of our Congress, and perhaps our country.
The meeting in the Republican controlled House on Wednesday was not unlike a big cocktail party. The cruise line representatives & cruise industry lobbyists back-slapped and joked around with Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen like it was their five year college reunion. The Republicans extolled the cruise industry's great "entrepreneurs" without even a fleeting thought or concern of the cruise industry's disastrous effect on the environment, or the cruise industry's exploitation of foreign crewmembers, or the fact that the cruise industry pays virtually no U.S taxes although it relies heavily on U.S. agencies to conduct its business.
Contrast this freak show with the serious attitude of the Senate hearing on Thursday, which was presided over by a well respected Democratic Senator like Jay Rockefeller who has dedicated his life protecting the coal mine workers from his state of West Virginia and consumers across the U.S.
As long as there are responsible consumer-oriented leaders like Senator Rockefeller in Congress, the victims of cruise ship malfeasance have a fighting chance to force the cruise industry to be accountable when they injure and kill passengers and crew and destroy our environment.
Photograph above: ICV President Jamie Barnett, ICV Director Laurie Dishman, Cruise Expert Professor Ross Klein, Costa Concordia survivor, Jim Walker, ICV member Shari Cecil, and ICV CEO Ken Carver.
This weekend the cruise port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida broke a new record with the most cruise passengers entering or leaving the port. The Sun Sentinel reports that around 106,000 passengers will transit through Port Everglades on 24 cruise ships. Each day from Friday through Sunday will see 8 cruise ships return and then leave the port full of passengers.
The newspaper suggested an interesting visual perspective: If lined up bow to stern, the cruise ships sailing through Port Everglades this weekend are as tall as 22 Eiffel Towers, or as long as 72 football fields . . .
The heavy port activity is the result of New Year / Holiday cruise ships returning to South Florida.
Unfortunately not all of the cruises turned out to be safe experiences.
Multiple sexual assaults occurred on the world's largest cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas, during a cruise over the New Year. We discussed the alleged crimes in an article last Wednesday. The alleged rapists were passengers from Brazil. It is interesting to note that they were not arrested by the FBI but by the Broward Sheriff's Office. Florida is the only state where the local police or sheriff officers can arrest and the state can prosecute crimes on the high seas. In all other states, only the federal government can assert such jurisdiction.
The alleged crime was finally reported by the Miami Herald yesterday and the newspaper mentioned our previous article. It is good to see the the Miami Herald reporting on cruise ship crimes. The Herald historically ignores stories like this and does not seem to want to anger the local cruise lines here in Miami who are major advertisers with the newspaper. The Herald also included coverage on its Spanish edition, el Neuvo Herald - "Arrestado Hombre Acusado de Violación En Un Crucero."
Our firm was also mentioned in an interesting article about cruise ship norovirus and whether cruise line are taking adequate steps to sanitize their ships. E Turbo News (Global Travel Industry News) published an article "When Bugs Swim: Cruise Ships Provide Perfect Environment for Spread of Disease." I talked about my experience interviewing cruise ship cleaners who believe that the EcoLab spray disinfectants cause injury to their lungs. They admitted pouring the anti-bacterial solutions down the drain and replacing the solutions with water. So when they wipe the wet rags over the cruise ship surfaces, they are probably just spreading the nasty viruses everywhere. No wonder the cruise lines seem to have a problem with norovirus outbreaks.
The big news this weekend was the media hype surrounding DateLine NBC's update on the disappearance of cruise passenger George Smith who went overboard in July 2005. Unfortunately, there was nothing new presented in the hour long show. You can read our last article about Mr. Smith's situation here. I have always thought the case involved foul play and the four men last seen with George Smith know more than they have admitted. At least the DateLine program returned the public's attention to this unsolved case.
With the renewed interest in Mr. Smith's case the popular Cruise Radio program aired a prior interview with me which you can listen to here.
This blog started the new year out with our own record. According to Google analytics, over 20,000 visitors read over 67,000 pages for the first 8 days of 2012.
If you have a question about cruise ship law or want our perspective on a cruise related story, please contact me directly at email@example.com
Yesterday award winning cruise radio host Doug Parker (photo left) broadcast an earlier interview with me about tips about staying safe during a cruise. The text of his blog is below. Don't forget to listen to the interview at the bottom link:
"It’s not something you like to think about but just like on land, crime too happens on cruise ships, too. This week’s news has been about the George Smith case, a man who disappeared on his honeymoon cruise back in July 2005, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. A follow-up “Overboard” will be on NBC’s Dateline this Friday night.
A lot of people let their guard down while cruising and think it’s safe to get crazy drunk or let their kids have full rein of the cruise ship because it’s a “safe-haven,” but that’s not always the case. I mean you can drink all-you-want and not have to drive anywhere, right?
Maritime attorney Jim Walker of Cruise Law News sat down with us and gave us ”Six Tips for Staying Safe at Sea.” This interview aired in January 2011 on Cruise Radio but we think this is a good time to reinforce what could be consequences of letting your guard down.
You will want to forward this article to any frequent cruisers in your life."
Listen to this short but informative interview here.
As this year comes to a close, it's time to look back at some of events of 2011.
Last year started out with a bang. Our firm represented a seriously injured crewmember in a case against Royal Caribbean. Our client sustained a debilitating back injury, underwent an unsuccessful surgery, and needed a second surgery which the cruise line refused to provide. In January, a three member arbitration panel found that Royal Caribbean's refusal to provide the surgery "lacked any reasonable defense" and awarded the crewmember $1,250,000. You can read the decision here.
The award was featured in Miami's Daily Business Review, which you can read here. It is the highest reported arbitration award for an injured crewmember to date.
In ten days, we will begin a trial against Royal Caribbean on behalf of another crewmember who suffered a severe back injury, underwent an unsuccessful surgery and needs a second operation which the cruise line refuses to authorize. Sound familiar? Check back in a couple of weeks for the results of our first trial in 2012.
Shortly after the Royal Caribbean award, we received bad news when a federal judge in Miami summarily ended one of our cases against Royal Caribbean where a young woman was severely injured while receiving private lessons on a FlowRider and underwent four surgeries. The cruise line tried to end the case based on a "liability waiver" which passengers are required to sign before participating in FlowRider activities as well as rock climbing, skating and other activities. Liability waivers are illegal in maritime cases. To our surprise the court granted the cruise line's motion, notwithstanding a federal statute clearly stating that liability waivers on the high seas are unenforceable.
The decision sent a shock wave through the Miami maritime legal community because liability waivers in maritime matters have been unenforceable for decades. The defense lawyers for the cruise lines were giddy. They spoke openly of requiring cruise passengers to sign liability waivers for everything from playing shuffleboard to exercising in the gym to swimming in the cruise ship's pool. We appealed. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the lower court's ruling and held that cruise line liability waivers are illegal and unenforceable, even if they involve ultra-hazardous or inherently dangerous activities. The decision is a great result that will protect cruise passengers for years to come.
The past year included the usual number of stories of cruise ship drug smuggling, sexual assaults, shipboard malpractice, serious injuries and passengers and crew disappearing under suspicious circumstances - everything the cruise lines don't want you to know about.
2011 was the first full year where our co-counsel Jonathan Aronson worked with us on cases. Mr. Aronson was one of the best maritime attorneys in Florida who used to defend cases for Royal Caribbean until he switched sides to representing passengers and crewmembers. The cruise line spent a small fortune trying to disqualify him and our firm from representing clients against it. It lost. We won. And most importantly, our clients benefited from having an excellent and highly experienced maritime attorney join our team.
Our blog, Cruise Law News (CLN), enjoyed another popular year, ending up the number 11 most popular law blog per the Avvo/Alexa rankings. This month over 53,000 people read over 156,000 pages of CLN. Here are some of the cruise highlights and lowlifes CLN covered:
Its been another exciting week in the world of cruising.
Over 50,000 cruise passengers arrived or departed aboard eight ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale yesterday, setting a new world record for most people entering/leaving a port according to the Sun Sentinel. The newspaper reports that the Oasis of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Carnival Miracle, Grand Princess, Crown Princess, Eurodam and MSC Poesia were in port.
The Oasis of the Seas also made the news with a report that 54 passengers and 10 employees reported being sick with an undisclosed illness. The cruise line said that the cruise ship will undergo a "thorough cleaning" as a precaution before it's next sailing, whatever that means.
Speaking of undisclosed cruise ship illnesses, one passenger is dead and 80 sick on the HAL Veendam when it reached Brazil. HAL immediately said the death has nothing to do with the shipboard illnesses. HAL' s PR department must be some kind of experts in epidemiology and forensic medicine to make such a finding without even conducting an autopsy.
The LA Times reports that the U.S. Coast Guard medevaced a 77 year old passenger showing signs of a stroke. She was evacuated from the Carnival Spirit cruise ship by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from San Diego 230 miles southwest of San Diego on Saturday. You can watch the amazing video of the rescue here.
The usual number of cruise passengers were foolish enough to buy pot in the Caribbean where one island will sell you reefer and the next island will fine you several thousands of dollars which the U.S. tourists are happy to pay to avoid a year or two in jail. You can read about the fun and games here and here.
Cruise fans are still debating whether its safe to travel to Mexico, but no one in the U.S. except Cruise Law News is reporting on stories like this where 6 armed rob a jewelry store in Puerto Vallarta across from the cruise terminal when HAL cruise passengers are walking around in the shopping square. This comes couple weeks after a shoot-out in Cabo San Lucas, another story the cruise lines and travel agents won't mention.
Shhh, don't alarm the cruise tourists, its bad for business.
Turning overseas to the U.K., many British citizens are still fuming that Cunard decided to end its relationship with Britain and elected to register its cruise ships in Bermuda. Mail Online published an interesting photo today of the Queen Elizabeth no longer bearing the port of "Southampton" on its stern and about to be painted with "Hamilton," the capital of Bermuda.
Cunard claims that it did this in order for its ship captains to marry passengers at sea. Most people believe that Cunard choose a flag of convenience in order to avoid British and European wage and labor laws.
The Seattle Post reports that starting December 1st cruise ships will be prohibited from discharging wastewater into a protected marine sanctuary off the outer coast of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers 2,408 square nautical miles and provides a habitat to many species of fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Our family spent time kayaking up there last summer. Its great news that an environmental group is keeping the cruise ship pee and poop out of the sanctuary.
November has been a record month for Cruise Law News ("CLN"). Over 70,000 people read over 200,000 pages. Outside the U.S., the most readers of CLN are from (in order) Canada, the U.K., Australia, Mexico and India.
This past month has seen a number of incredible stories about the cruise industry.
TOXIC CRUISE WATER? The Sunday Times in London published a blockbuster article about a British paint inspector, Brian Bradford, who was kicked off a NCL cruise ship after complaining about health risks which may be posed to cruise passengers and crew by a Hempel paint coating which was applied to potable water tanks on NCL and Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Whistle blower Bradford was hit with a "super injunction" to gag him from talking about the by the paint or discussing anything about his inspection of the cruise ships in question.
Its really amazing how corporations can endanger the public and then use their lawyers to cover the danger up.
The only ones to report on the story have been cruise expert Ross Klein in Canada and the British press. We are the only one talking about it here in the U.S. Most U.S. newspapers (the LA Times and NY Times being the exceptions) are in the hip pocket of the cruise lines. They accept cruise advertising revenue and publish colorful travel sections in their newspapers about the joys of cruising, but they look the other way when the cruise lines screw up. Our local newspaper, the Miami Herald, is absolutely the pits. But this story is far from over. It is only a matter of time before someone in the U.S. other than our small blog pays attention to it.
DISNEY COVER-UP? The other blockbuster article was by another British newspaper, the Guardian, which published a story about missing Disney Cruise youth counselor Rebecca Coriam. The article was featured in the newspaper's weekend edition with a photo of the Wonder cruise ship (below) on the cover. The article was written by U.K. journalist, documentary filmmaker, and best selling author Jon Ronson who sailed on the Wonder for a week to gather information. For a cruise line that supposedly caters to children and families, its disturbing to think that Disney is more concerned with its Magical Kingdom illusion than the distraught Coriam family.
ANOTHER CRUISE LINE HIDES BEHIND DOHSA: The most read article this month was from a guest blogger, a mother who wrote about the death of her three year old daughter in HAL's Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. Most cruise passengers do not understand that there is no recovery for pain, suffering, grief and bereavement when a cruise line's negligence kills a child.
JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL CRUISE VICTIMS ("ICV"): If these type of stories concern you, consider joining the ICV which is a grass roots victims' organization consisting of families of passengers and crewmembers who have been injured or lost at sea during cruises. You can read about the ICV here.
GOOD NEWS FOR CRUISE LAW NEWS ("CLN"): Our readership continues to grow. So far this month, over 44,000 unique readers clicked on our blog and read over 127,000 pages. If statistics mean anything, CLN ranks as the 12th most popular law blog according to AVVO/Alexa. I'm convinced that people flock to our blog because there simply is no place else to read stories about cruising that the cruise lines don't want you know about.
If you have a story you want us to cover, let us hear from you.
Cruise ship issues in Europe dominated the world of cruise news this week.
An explosion in the engine room of the Nordlys cruise ship, operated by Hurtigruten, resulted in a fire and the evacuation of the ship off of Norway. Half of the 200 or so passengers were evacuated in lifeboats and the other half got off the cruise ship when the vessel was towed to port. All passengers were safe but unfortunately two 2 crewmembers died and many were injured.
Whenever a cruise ship explodes or catches on fire, there is always a cruise / travel columnist who feels compelled to publish an article insisting that such cruise calamities are rare. This time it was Jane Archer, a cruise fan and columnist who writes for the Telegraph Travel. Her puff piece article Hurtigruten Fire: How Safe is Your Cruise? claims that "incidents like this are few and far between."
The problem with this claim is that just last year an engine room fire caused the evacuation of over 600 passengers and crew in Norwegian waters.
That incident involved the German cruise ship Deutschland. And just last November a cruise ferry, the Pearl of Scandinavia, erupted in fire off of Norway while filled with cars and passengers (photo left).
The other big development in Europe involved the parents of missing Disney Cruises youth counselor Rebecca Coriam meeting with the U.K. Shipping Minister to discuss enacting legislation to permit the U.K. to become involved in the investigation when British citizens disappear on foreign flagged cruise ship around the world. Mike and Ann Coriam of Chester England are understandably upset with the lack of information from the cruise line and the single policeman from the Bahamas who is charged with investigating the disappearance.
While the Coriam family was working to make cruising safer for the U.K. public, another cruise passenger disappeared from the Fred Olsen Balmoral cruise ship. Last year, the Balmoral was dubbed the "Cursed Cruise Ship of the High Seas" following a series of norovirus bouts which sickened hundred of passengers and crew. We reported on the unexplained disappearance of another passenger from the Balmoral last year. The Balmoral also narrowly averted disaster when it was attacked by pirates last year.
On a lighter personal note, the season finally started for my younger son's JV football team. Gulliver was trounced by rival Belen Jesuit, but my son got to play running back, split end and corner back. He ran across the field and got a big hit on Belen's running back at the one yard line to save the touchdown. Watch the play to the end!
Shon "Cruise Man 3000" Ford, recently interviewed Jim Walker, whom he refers to as The ‘Cruisetacular’ Legal Eagle, regarding his Cruise Law business. Cruise Man 3000 is not afraid to provide insight to both the good and bad of the cruise industry. Shon has a great blogspot where he posts about his travels on the high seas. He’s traveled aboard 23 different vessels composed of 5 different cruise lines.
Cruise Man 3000 is unique because he has the confidence to expose the negative side of the cruise industry in addition to his cruise industry enthusiast attitude. Cruise Man 3000 gives his honest perspective, something we appreciate here at Cruise Law.
Check out Cruise Man 3000's interview with Jim Walker here. Keep up the great work Cruise Man 3000. Safe travels!
The big news this week is the sad story of the sinking of the Bulgaria cruise ship on the Volga river. The 1955 era ship was considered a rust bucket. On the day in question, it sailed with a malfunctioning engine, listing to one side, and overloaded with passengers. When a storm turned the ship sideways, the captain could not right the vessel and it rolled and sank. Over 100 people perished, mostly women and children. The international press is calling the tragedy the Russian Titanic.
Royal Caribbean is placing pressure on the city of Key West to dredge and fill a path through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in order to widen the shipping lane into the harbor to accommodate its Genesis class of cruise ships, according to the Key Noter newspaper. If the channel is not widened, the cruise line threatens to bypass Key West and head straight to Mexico. However, dredging will destroy coral and sea fan resources. Currently, some 800,000 cruise passengers unload into Key West every year. Some residents expressed concern that adding even more cruise tourists from mega ships like the Allure and the Oasis will degrade the overall experience of visiting Key West and turn it into an "amusement park like atmosphere," transforming Duval Street into "redneck Disney World meets Myrtle Beach."
Regarding firm news, Cruise Radio interviewed me regarding a legal case. Cruise Law News is the number 15th most popular law blog per the Alexa / Avvo rankings. AOL Travel / Gadling published an article - "Death by Cruise Ship? It Can Come in Several Ways" which mentioned our firm. The article cited our series on the disappearance of George Smith and featured a video of me on the Scarborough show. Wow, did I lose a lot of hair in the past six years.
Things are suppose to slow down in the summer, but there are no signs of that yet.
Royal Caribbean recenty tried to muzzle a Miami lawyer who issued a press release about a cruise line case scheduled for trial in November. Gagging lawyers from talking to the pubic requires introducing substantial evidence establishing that the parties will not receive a fair trial. The risk of trying to quiet a critic runs the risk of looking like a bully. Not a smart move. The attack on the lawyer and his disabled client just focused the public's attention on the cruise line's strong arm tactics.
Whenever I see Royal Caribbean try and muzzle the press, I think back to 2005 and 2006 when this cruise line embarked on a media campaign following the disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. We represented Mr. Smith's wife, Jennifer Hagel. Royal Caribbean sent its CEO Richard Fain (photo left) and high profile media lawyer Lanny Davis (photo below right) onto the cable news shows to influence public opinion.
Why should any local Miami lawyer be muzzled when this cruise line sends its CEO and high profile lawyers from Washington D.C. onto TV programs to discuss legal controversies?
Speaking of RCCL, the Oasis of the Seas intercepted 7 Cuban rafters, who are back in Cuba after the cruise line turned them over to the U.S. Coast Guard. Very strange that a company incorporated in Liberia which flies the flag of the Bahamas is acting like a branch of the U.S. Coast Guard responsible for sending rafters back to Cuba. This is the fourth time a Royal Caribbean cruise ship "rescued" Cubans fleeing to the U.S. in the last 6 months.
Princess Cruises' Sea Princess has been in the news, too. There have been reports of norovirus on the cruise ship during the last four cruises. The cruise line has again blamed the passengers for bringing the virus aboard and then spreading it around. The Centers for Disease control state that the most likely cause of norovirus in most cases is contaminated food or water, but cruise lines like Princess always blame the passengers. Those dirty passengers, if they would only wash their hands. Since when did cruise PR representatives rather than epidemiologists determine the cause of viral outbreaks?
Speaking of dirty, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 failed a surprise sanitation inspection conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC found the luxury liner to have "extremely dirty" water and tile in a pool, human hair in an ice machine, and chemicals stored near napkins, paper cups and utensils. The CDC report used the word "filthy" five times. Oh, that filthy Mary!
The Carnival Glory, meanwhile today scored her second perfect sanitation score - a 100. This time it was issued by Canadian authorities; the week before it was by the CDC.
Its never dull in the world of cruising. This week was no exception.
Our firm remained busy with cases against the cruise lines. At any given time, we and our co-counsel represent a little under 100 cruise passengers and crewmembers. New clients retained us this week after being injured on Carnival, Celebrity, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Our advertising efforts in the Caribbean are paying off. Three crewmembers from Royal Caribbean retained us and our co-counsel Jonathan Aronson. The majority of our crewmember clients are former employee of Royal Caribbean who received poor medical care after being injured at work.
This week saw a passenger go overboard from the NCL Spirit cruise ship. The cruise ship was sailing on the Mississippi River south of New Orleans when he ended up in the water. How and why did this happen? There is no information available in the media so far. Its not easy to fall of a cruise ship (unless alcohol is involved), so he probably jumped or perhaps was pushed, I'm not sure. Its anyone's guess at this point. The good news is that he is alive and well, which is not the usual situation in cases like this. Count your blessings my friend.
A 51 year old passenger was medevaced by the Coast Guard off of the coast of California from the Carnival Paradise. The passenger reportedly experienced convulsions ans was showing signs of a stroke, and was taken to a hospital in San Diego. Medevacs like this happen literally on a weekly basis. Its a "free" service of the U.S. Coast Guard. If you are going to have a medical emergency on a cruise ship, make sure it is within the reach of a Coast Guard cutter or helicopter which can take you to a U.S. hospital.
A passenger was assaulted in Bermuda but the police shrugged it off. This was one of the stranger stories we have blogged about. A Cruise Critic forum contained a post about a passenger from the NCL Dawn allegedly being jumped and beaten by a would be robber near the Maritime Museum. But there was no report of the crime on the official website of the Bermudian police department. The police then said that it was not an assault or robbery, it was just an injury due to a drug deal gone astray. Huh?
The incident occurred a week after two NCL crewmembers from the Dawn were assaulted early in the morning in Snorkel Park. A local newspaper published an article about the crewmember fracas entitled Warning of Tourism Fallout after Fight. Is Bermuda's approach to public relations now to dismiss a report of a violent crime as a "drug deal gone bad?"
The Queen Mary 2 failed a CDC inspection. The U.K. Daily Mail reports that sanitation inspectors branded the Queen Mary 2 "filthy" five times in a report.
The week started with my blog article about former Royal Caribbean Staff Captain Bjørn Eidissen's court case where a Miami judge permitted his lawyer to amend the lawsuit to seek punitive damages against the cruise line. The case arises out of the September 2005 leak of hydrogen sulfide on the Monarch of the Seas which killed three crewmembers and injured nineteen others. While researching the story, I ran across a report by the staff captain in which he alleges that four months later the Monarch of the Seas dumped tons of sediment and chemicals into the waters off of the shores of San Francisco as the ship was heading to a dry dock.
Staff Captain Eidissen claims that the incident was reported to the top executives at Royal Caribbean, but no one did anything. I cannot find any indication that the Coast Guard investigated the incident. If this is true, this seems like a heck of a blockbuster story. But there appeared to be little interest in the article. Perhaps the public is tired of stories about cruise ships polluting the oceans.
In an unrelated story, for the first three months of this year CLIA - the trade organization for the cruise industry - spent over $490,000 lobbying U.S. agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard.
This past week has been a busy time for our firm with many international news stories being published about the cruise industry.
Our firm is off and running with our advertising in Jamaica. We spent Sunday fielding questions from prospective clients in response to our ads in local Sunday newspapers. We are in discussions with advertisers in other Caribbean countries where injured and disabled crewmembers are abandoned by Miami-based cruise lines.
Our firm received a fair amount of press in the last week. We were quoted in the Los Angles Times (discussed below) regarding a major cruise story. The South Florida Business Journal and the U.K.'s Telegraph mentioned Cruise Law News' article about the bizarre 7 hour interrogation of British passengers by the U.S. Customs and Border police.
it seems like some over-zealous Federal agents in Los Angeles mistook the geriatric British passengers on the luxury cruise ship as al-Qaida terrorists and subjected them to a nightmarish situation where the 2,000 elderly passengers underwent detailed passport checks, extensive background interviews, and biometric checks, including fingerprints of both hands and retina scans after standing in the heat for 7 hours. You can read about the misguided way our Federal government treats tourists in my blog U.S. Customs Officials Take Revenge Against Elderly British Cruise Passengers?
Turning to more serious legal news, last Friday a Federal Court Judge in Miami rejected an attempt by Oceania Cruises to limit its potential liability at no more than $65,000 for alleged damages suffered by a 13 year old child raped on the Regatta cruise ship.
Can you imagine having your child raped during a vacation cruise and then have the cruise line try to limit its liability for damages to only $65,000? Only a cruise line could handle its PR like this. You can read about the case here.
The major event this weekend involved the Los Angeles Times' article about the sad tale and continuing mystery of missing youth counselor Rebecca Coriam from the Disney Wonder cruise ship. Written by Corina Knoll, the LA Times article is entitled "Bereft Parents' Loss is as Deep as the Ocean." It contains an iconic photograph (bottom) of Rebecca's parents, Mike and Ann Coriam, standing at the dock in San Pedro as the Wonder cruise ship sailed off for another cruise to the Mexican Riviera. The Coriam family returned to Chester England with no answers regarding what happened to their daughter. You can read our article here about the many questions which remain unanswered by this disturbing case.
It amazes me that parents on the next cruise would drop off their kids to the care of youth counselors on the Disney cruise ship, after one of the counselors "vanished" during the last cruise. How can a young woman completely "disappear" from the Magical Kingdom's cruise ship with no CCTV cameras capturing the events. Are there "blind spots" in the CCTV cameras coverage of the ship? Not a good idea on a cruise ship catering to family vacations with kids. Does Disney have a serious problem with its security cameras? Or do the cameras work just fine, but Disney is hiding information?
A disturbing issue with this latest cruise disappearance is that Disney Cruise Line is incorporated in the U.K. and Ms. Coriam is from England as well, but a single policeman from the Bahamas is involved in the "investigation" because the Disney Wonder flies a flag of convenience from that third world country. There is something wrong when a British citizen hired by a British corporation to work on a U.S. based cruise ship disappears, and no U.S. or U.K. agencies are allowed to board the cruise ship to investigate.
This suits Disney Cruise Lines just fine. They can work behind the scenes, as the policeman in the Bahamas sits in the police station in Nassau pretending to investigate what happened on a cruise ship sailing between LA and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Coriam family remains in England with no answers.
I suppose that our U.S. Federal agents in Los Angeles could do a better job investigating the case of missing British citizen Rebecca Coriam. But then again, they probably are busy harassing elderly British cruise tourists.
Today we began advertising in Jamaica, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. The ad below will begin appearing in some of the newspapers in Jamaica, and a variation will appear on some of the billboards in Jamaica.
I have been a lawyer for 28 years. I have never advertised on television, radio, newspapers or billboards. We have relied on our reputation developed over the years and recommendations from one client we have helped to the next potential client who finds himself in a similar situation.
I have always viewed "billboard lawyers" with disdain. Florida is littered with huge billboards looming over the highways advertising lawyers with 1-800 I N J U R Y telephone numbers.
I do not think I have ever seen any of these "billboard lawyers" actually in the courthouse. Probably because they don't really go to court or actually handle cases. Many of these lawyers take the calls from their 1-800 numbers and then refer the cases to other lawyers to handle. Lots of Americans point to the lawyer billboards as endemic of the so-called "litigation explosion" which many people think plagues the U.S.
Unlike the U.S., Jamaica has a culture where litigation is not encouraged. Plus there are virtually no Jamaican lawyers who advertise. Injured crewmembers are often from countries like Jamaica where few people file lawsuits, there is no legal advertising, and it is difficult to obtain basic information about your legal rights. Cruise lines often take advantage of this type of situation.
Over the next few months, Jamaicans will see our firm's name and photos on billboards, in newspapers, and on the radio throughout the country. We know first hand that there are many Jamaican men and women who dedicated their careers to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, only to be sent a one way ticket home and forgotten when they are seriously injured and can no longer work at sea. Advertising in Jamaica will help level the playing field against the cruise lines. We are educating these crewmembers regarding their right to obtain compensation here in Miami when they are disabled from cruise ship employment.
So, it is with mixed feelings that I am about to become a "billboard lawyer." But not just any "billboard lawyer." A Jamaican billboard lawyer.
But unlike U.S. billboard lawyers, you will see the lawyers in our firm in the courthouse here in Miami fighting for the rights of our clients who the cruise lines have abandoned in Jamaica.
June 28, 2011 Update: We modified our ad, with a non descript cruise ship and a different background.
This past week has been an exciting period of time for the lawyers at Cruise Law.
Jonathan Aronson and I returned from visiting clients in Jamaica. There are a number of injured crew members who the cruise lines have dumped back in their home country after they were injured working the long hours demanded of cruise line employees. Under an ancient maritime doctrine called "maintenance and cure," maritime employers are required to provide all necessary medical treatment and pay the living expenses for the ill or injured crewmembers. All too often, the cruise lines refuse to do so, and abandon their employees back in their home countries hoping that they will not obtain legal representation.
Billboards, Newspapers and Radio:
During our trip to Jamaica, we met with representatives from billboard, newspaper and radio companies to begin advertising our legal services in Jamaica. Unlike the U.S., Jamaica has a culture where litigation is not encouraged. Plus there are virtually no Jamaican lawyers who advertise. Injured crewmembers are often from countries like Jamaica where few people file lawsuits, there is no legal advertising, and it is difficult to obtain basic information about your legal rights. (The billboard above is near the port of Falmouth, by the Mayor of Trelawny Parish).
That's about to change.
Over the next few months, Jamaicans will see our firm's name and photos on billboards, in newspapers, and on the radio throughout the country. We know first hand that there are many Jamaican men and women who dedicated their careers to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, only to be sent a one way ticket home and forgotten when they are seriously injured and can no longer work at sea. We are educating these crewmembers regarding their right to obtain compensation here in Miami when they are disabled from cruise ship employment.
Wrongful Death Suit Filed Over Death of 14 Year Old Girl in St. Thomas:
USA Today, the Miami New Times and the Virgin Islands Daily News have reported on the case of 14 year old Liz Marie Peréz Chaparro, who was killed during a stopover in St. Thomas while on a Carnival cruise. Cruise lines have a legal duty to warn their passengers of dangers in the ports of call which they select. For our article about this terrible crime, read: More Caribbean Crime - Carnival Passenger Killed In St. Thomas.
A copy of the lawsuit is available on line here (via courthousenews.com).
More Publicity Over $1,250,000 Arbitration Award Against Royal Caribbean:
The media continues to cover the arbitration award which our firm obtained against Royal Caribbean for an injured crew member from Serbia. The South Florida Business Journal first reported on the award in an article "Royal Caribbean to pay Injured Worker $1.25M" and referred to our blog article about the case. Miami's Daily Business Review and Law.com then ran articles about the case.
Royal Caribbean's defense lawyer Curtis Mase was quoted in a follow up article by the South Florida Business Review "Royal Caribbean Case Highlights Arbitration" that the outcome of the case "flies in the face of 200 years of maritime law." Mr. Mase was referring to his argument that the cruise line should not be liable for the bad medical care provided to the injured crewmember after the cruise line abandoned her, an argument which the arbitration panel rejected.
Maritime employers have been legally responsible for the medical care and treatment of injured crewmembers actually dating back beyond 200 years to the Medieval Sea Codes. The arbitration panel not only found this cruise line's failure to provide appropriate medical treatment to be unreasonable, but it found Royal Caribbean to have acted negligently and to be 100% at fault in causing the crew member's accident.
This arbitration award was the first crew member outcome from the team of Walker & O'Neill and former Royal Caribbean defense lawyer Jonathan Aronson. Mr. Aronson "switched sides" two years ago. In response, Royal Caribbean and Mr. Mase unsuccessfully tried to disqualify Mr. Aronson and our firm from suing the cruise line, which we reported on in articles Royal Caribbean Forces Defense Lawyer to Switch Sides and Its Not Personal . . . Its Strictly Business. After losing its first two disqualification motions, the cruise line gave up. It now has one of its best defense lawyers successfully suing it.
A Near Miss - Independence of the Seas Hauls Ass Out of Gibraltar
An explosion from a large fuel tank near Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas resulted in what the cruise line describes as "minor" injuries to a dozen passengers. Seems like many guests on the top deck may have suffered flash burns when the tank exploded. A potential disaster was averted when the captain and his officers made a quick assessment of the situation and sailed the cruise ship away from the burning tank and out to safety in the harbor. You can see dramatic video and photos in our articles here and here.
Although the story ended happily, the issue arises whether cruise ships are attractive targets for terrorists particularly when they are positioned for Mediterranean and Middle East itineraries. Parking a cruise ship next to three large fuel tanks (especially during welding operations), needs to be re-thought.
A Guest Blog Goes Viral
The summer is here again and our firm's legal intern, law student Caitlin Burke has returned to help us with our cases. She quickly volunteered for another "guest blog" which is one of the most popular articles this year. Take a moment and read "Top 10 Shocking Clauses In Your Cruise Contract" and learn how cruise lines have stacked the deck against its cruise passengers. A hell of a way to treat your customers!
If you are a cruise critic or a cruise fan and think you are up to writing a guest blog here on Cruise Law News, contact us and we will be pleased to discuss this with you.
Safe cruising . . .
Top: Trelawny Billboard - Jim walker
Middle: Port of Miami, Majesty of the Seas, Jonathan Aronson, Lisa O'Neill, Jim Walker - Jim Walker
This week I traveled from Miami to California to attend a hearing at the state capital building in Sacramento. California Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D - West Covina) had introduced legislation that will permit the State of California to prosecute criminals on cruise ships which call on California ports.
This is an important bill. In all states except Florida, only the FBI has jurisdiction to investigate crimes outside territorial waters and the crimes must be prosecuted only by the Federal government. Unfortunately, the FBI has a very poor track record investigating shipboard crimes and only a small fraction of such crimes are ever prosecuted.
California has addressed this problem by introducing a bill that will permit state prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against crew members and passengers who commit crimes against passengers on cruises which begin and end in California. In instances where the FBI or DOJ decline to become involved, the state of California can become involved and a state attorney can prosecute the crime.
I had the opportunity to review the bill and meet with Assemblyman Hernández. Issues were raised in opposition to the bill whether the bill was unconstitutional because it may violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and impermissibly tread upon an area which was preempted by Federal law. My analysis led me to conclude that the bill was constitutional and a valid exercise of the state of California to protect individuals sailing from its ports.
Members of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization (photo left) attended the hearing. Charmian and ICV founder Ken Carver traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to discuss the disappearance of his daughter, Merrian Carver, during a cruise aboard a Celebrity cruise ship, and the failure of the Federal government to investigate the incident or prosecute the cruise line when it engaged in a cover-up .
Friend and former client Laurie Dishman (photo below) testified about her horrific experiences during a Royal Caribbean cruise, when a part time security guard (hired as a janitor/cleaner) raped her and then the cruise line forced her to remain in the crime scene for several hours. When she was finally permitted to go to ship infirmary, the ship doctor handed Laurie black garbage bags and told her to return to the cabin and collect her own evidence. Laurie explained to the Assembly how the Federal government failed her. The FBI closed its investigation within 8 hours after the cruise ship returned to port in Southern California and the Department of Justice declined to prosecute the case despite substantial evidence which should have led to a conviction of the cruise line rapist.
ICV President Jamie Barnett, told the Assembly about the circumstances of losing her daughter, Ashley, during a Carnival cruise and the indifference demonstrated by the FBI to her family's plight. (You can read about Jamie's efforts to protect the cruising public in The Compelling Story of Jamie Barnett - Living Through the Loss).
The assembly room was packed. You could hear a pin drop as Ken, Laurie and Jamie testified. Although there were technical legal concerns with the legality of the bill, the Public Safety committee of Assembly voted unanimously in support of passing the bill.
The experience reinforced a conclusion that I reached long ago. At the end of the day, legislators are less concerned with technical mumbo-jumbo legal arguments and more concerned with the compelling stories of victims appearing before them.
There are additional committees which will review the bill before it is passed into law, but this was a historic event nonetheless.
Congratulations to the ICV members and its supporting friends. A special thanks should go to Ken, Jamie, and Laurie for taking a leadership position in supporting this important bill which will make cruising safer.
Photograph credit: Jim Walker (sorry for the poor quality, photos taken on my blackberry).
This afternoon BBC Radio (Radio Merseyside) interviewed maritime lawyer Jim Walker in Miami regarding the disappearance of Disney youth activities worker Rebecca Coriam from the Disney Wonder cruise ship.
Rebecca was reported missing when she failed to report to work aboard the cruise ship on March 22, 2011. You can listen to the BBC Radio interview here. It runs just five minutes or so.
It has been almost a month and Rebecca's family continue to seek answers about her disappearance.
Ironically, Disney Cruise incorporated its cruise line as the Magical Cruise Company in the U.K. (for tax purposes) where Rebecca's family resides. Yet, there are no investigators from the U.K. invested with jurisdiction for investigating her disappearance. Instead, the "investigation" is being officially conducted by a policeman from the Bahamas because Disney flagged its cruise ship in that country (again primarily for tax purposes).
How is it that the Scotland Yard or someother competent agency are not involved in investigating the disappearance of a U.K. employee from a cruise ship operated by a company incorporated in the U.K.?
Ms. Coriam's family created a website which contains contact information. The site is Rebecca-Coriam.com. If you have information about Rebecca, please click on the website and e-mail the family.
You can read our other articles on this case here.
Cruise Law News was featured today in Attorney at Law Magazine in an article by legal marketing expert Paula Black.
In her article "The Right Results," Paula writes:
"Jim Walker of Miami firm Walker & O'Neill P.A. runs the popular Cruise Law News, a blog focused solely on "breaking news and legal commentary regarding cruise ship passengers and crew members around the world." A niche practice? Yes. A smart blog? Also yes. As a result of being one of the only attorneys blogging about the topic - and the only one providing actual daily commentary - he has seen his visibility skyrocket. Jim has been featured over one hundred times on television, cable news and radio shows, as well as in documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles."
In the short time our law blog has been on line, we climbed to the number 10 most popular law blog in the U.S.!
Paula is a real pro when it comes to assisting law firms in developing business. Check out her highly regarded blog: "In Black and White."
Cruise Law News (CLN)'s readership exploded last month. In February, our followers read 100,000 pages of CLN which remains the 10th most popular law blog in the U.S. Here is what people are recently saying about Jim Walker and CLN:
"Top Maritime Lawyer" - ABA Journal.
"Top Cruise Lawyer" - USA Today.
"Prominent Private Practice Maritime Attorney" - Fox News.
"Cruise Law Expert" - Slate Magazine.
"Prominent Cruise Plaintiff Attorney" - Law.com (America Law Media).
Perpetual Pain-In-The-Cruise-Lines-Neck Jim Walker - Gadling
Cruise Law News - "A Hard-Hitting Blog" - Miami's Daily Business Review.
Last month saw the revival of the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" award, won again by Royal Caribbean due to an epidemic of crew deaths and the prevalence of drugs on RCCL cruise ships, This month you will be reading a lot more about crimes associated with the Royal Caribbean cruise brand, here on the most popular maritime law website in the world.
One of the interesting things about having a blog is that there are programs which indicate how many viewers you have, how many pages they look at, and the countries where they are from.
For the first two weeks of this month alone, Cruise Law News (CLN) has been viewed over 62,000 times. We have been the tenth most popular law blog for several months now.
The number one referrer of visitors to CLN is Google (US), with other referrers via the Google search engines from the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, Puerto Rico, Australia, India, Germany, Norway, Mexico and Brazil.
The number two referrer to CLN is Facebook, which surprises me. Rather than just being a place to socialize on line, we are finding that Facebook is increasingly becoming a place where news is disseminated and issues are discussed.
We created a Facebook page for CLN recently to help get the news out about things that happen on cruise ships. You can read about some of the high profile cases involving the cruise industry. You can see our photographs of some of our clients and cases here. We have a rather modest group of followers at this early date (around 200) which includes cruise passengers and crew members. It is slowly growing. With the new Facebook format, our followers can post their own links to articles as well as post photographs and upload videos.
We hope that you click the "like" button and follow CLN on Facebook. Please consider taking a moment and post a comment to one of our blog articles, or post your own interesting link to a cruise-related story.
Cruise Radio is the most popular cruise related radio show in the world.
Yesterday we were one of the guests on the radio show and discussed tips on how to stay safe on cruise ships.
I discuss some tips to keep in mind if you cruise. About keeping your kids safe. About child predators on cruises. About cruise crime. About the consequences of too much alcohol on cruises. About violence during Caribbean excursions. Some disturbing info, no doubt.
As the host mentioned, Walker "gave some brutal but honest facts. It's a great reminder" about cruise ship safety.
This Thanksgiving, my family is back in my hometown of El Dorado Arkansas visiting my parents and our cousins. Thanksgiving at the family homestead in Arkansas is the perfect place to be this time of year.
My family has a lot to be thankful for this year. My Dad, age 81, made it to another Thanksgiving despite a series of heart attacks dating back to 1981 when I was in law school. My Dad is a tough nut with a heart of gold which unfortunately is failing him. I am thankful that my family can spend time with Dad and Mom, soulmates for the past 56 years.
I am thankful for my beautiful wife and healthy kids, my younger brother and his family who traveled from Texas and my older sister and her family who made the journey from Utah and California. I am thankful for my cousins here in Arkansas and my family's friends and church members who have supported my parents during this year.
I am thankful for my clients, passengers and crew members alike, who have entrusted us with their cases and causes.
I am thankful for my friend Jonathan Aronson and his wife Ilene who have helped us defeat the cruise line felons and are helping our law firm grow and prosper this year.
I am thankful for the people who are readers of Cruise Law News and who have supported me. Thanks a million for your positive (and negative) comments on this blog, on Twitter and Facebook. I appreciate your encouragement.
Take a moment on this day of Thanksgiving and be thankful for your family and friends. Count your blessings as you sit around the table eating turkey and watching the ball games this afternoon.
This was another interesting week in the strange world of cruise law news.
The week ended with a Miami jury awarding $2,900,000 in compensation for an injured Royal Caribbean crew member whose knee was butchered by a doctor in Nicaragua, which I mentioned in yesterday's blog. The trial highlighted the cruise line's practice of keeping ill and injured crew members out of the U.S.
It was a rough week for Royal Caribbean, being recognized for bad medical treatment for the crew members and bad food and service for the passengers, not to mention the most crew member suicides this year.
We also wrote about the 25th year anniversary of cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer killed by Palestinian terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship. Have the cruise lines taken sufficient steps over the past 25 years to protect passengers from terrorism?
Cruise Law News (CLN) created a facebook page. 77 fans in the first week. Yea! Fans can post comments, photos and even videos. We hope you visit and leave a comment!
CLN continued to moved up the list of popular law blogs. On the Avvo / Alexa list, we are now the 21st most popular law blog. For U.S. readers, we are in the top five most popular blogs by lawyers who actually practice law (I'm excluding law professors who have all of the time in the world to write!)
CLN was also mentioned in Ohio lawyer Russ Bensing's popular blog "The Briefcase" in an article entitled "Fun on the High Seas. Russ writes "forget what he costs them in his lawsuits; his blog alone is a powerful disincentive to those contemplating a Caribbean cruise." Hmm . . . didn't know I was so scarry. But thanks Russ!
Throughout the last decade, Royal Caribbean's reputation would embarrass most executives. Compared to other cruise lines, the cruise line was served with the most lawsuits, paid the highest settlements, and incurred the highest defense attorney fees.
In 2008, Royal Caribbean tried to reign in its out-of-control risk management department by what can only be described as cut throat measures. It terminated its vice president of risk management, an associate general counsel, the manager of its passenger claims department and many other long term employees. It hired two top lawyers away from its competitor, Carnival, and created a new team of five in-house lawyers to oversee the defense of passenger and crew member cases.
In the process, the cruise line lowered its settlement payments and defense expenses but it earned the reputation of being a cut throat organization. Many of the defense lawyers who had been loyal and dedicated advocates for Royal Caribbean for the past decade found themselves abandoned by the cruise line.
One of the best defense lawyers for Royal Caribbean, Jonathan Aronson (photo, right), decided to stop handling the defense of cruise line cases last year when his case load dropped from 65 cases a year to only one case in 2009. In the last few months, Mr. Aronson appeared as co-counsel with our firm in a few cases against this cruise line.
But Royal Caribbean didn't like the idea that one of its lawyers would "switch sides." Particularly one of its most experienced and talented lawyers, and especially as co-counsel with our firm. So it appears that the decision makers at Royal Caribbean decided to make an example out of Mr. Aronson and send a message to the maritime lawyers in Miami not to switch sides.
President Goldstein elected to hire Holland & Knight, the largest law firm in the state of Florida with over 1,100 lawyers, as well as a second firm Mase, Lara & Eversole, to litigate against Mr. Aronson and our firm.
Between these two firms, eight defense lawyers filed over twenty motions, memoranda, affidavits, declarations and depositions in a scorch-the-earth attempt to kick Aronson and our firm off of the cases. The cruise line spent a small fortune with this army of lawyers.
But the cruise line was destined to lose.
You see, the law is not on the cruise line's side. In Florida, disqualification is considered to be a "drastic remedy" and is granted only in very limited circumstances. Courts are also skeptical of motions to disqualify attorneys because a party like Royal Caribbean can use a motion for tactical reasons to harass the other side.
In the last two weeks, the cruise line lost its first two disqualification motions. As we expected, the courts ruled that there was no basis to disqualify Mr. Aronson.
The cruise line has now filed an appeal - an expensive, time consuming and ultimately losing proposition which the cruise line is committed to pay in order to try and make a point.
But the point the cruise line is missing is that loyalty between an attorney and client runs both ways. A large $15 billion corporation like Royal Caribbean has to learn that it cannot abandon talented lawyers without consequence. And until it learns this, this cruise line will find more and more of its better lawyers switching to the right side.
Top - Jonathan Aronson, outside the Miami-Dade County Courthouse - by Jim Walker.
In July, President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act. On the President's right side in the Oval Office was Sacramento resident and my friend, Laurie Dishman. On his left side, Laurie's Congresswoman, Doris Matsui.
The new cruise law involves a remarkable story about the bravery of Laurie Dishman. Laurie went on a Royal Caribbean cruise in February 2006 to celebrate her 35th birthday and her long friendship with her childhood friend, Michelle. But instead of a fun cruise, a janitor with prior complaints of sexual harassment who was working as a part time security guard sexually assaulted Laurie in her cabin.
When Laurie reported the rape, the head of the security department came into her cabin and sat on the bed where the rape occurred. He handed her a statement form to complete and left her in the crime scene. When Laurie was finally permitted to see the ship doctor, he handed her trash bags and told her to return to the cabin and collect her bed linens as evidence.
Royal Caribbean thereafter refused to provide Laurie with copies of her own shipboard medical records or provide her with the name of the cruise line employee who raped her.
In response to this outrageous treatment, Laurie reached out to her Congressional representative in California, Doris Matsui. Congresswoman Matsui answered Laurie's plea for assistance, and called for a Congressional hearing to investigate the problem with crimes like this on cruise ships.
Congresswoman Matsui Goes after the Cruise Lines
Congresswoman Matsui began an investigation into the cruise industry. She did not like what she found. Royal Caribbean would not initially even commit to installing peep holes in the passenger cabin doors. But Congresswoman Matsui was committed to helping Laurie and she found a number of allies in the House of Representatives, like Ted Poe from Texas, who are strong supporters of victim rights. A sub-committee was formed to look into Laurie's case and other similar sexual assaults. The sub-committee invited Laurie to testify about her ordeal. But the cruise industry pushed back and tried to strike Laurie as a witness at the Congressional hearing. From the time of the crime until the last hearing, the cruise lines spent $11,000,000 lobbying against the legislation.
As you will learn from the radio show the "Travel Guys Radio," the cruise line tried to wear Laurie down, but Laurie traveled from California to Washington D.C. 21 times at her own expense to tell her story in support of the new cruise safety law. She appeared on the major television networks, cable news, and radio stations - and was interviewed by newspapers throughout the U.S.
The "Travel Guys" interviewed Congresswoman Matsui who describes Laurie's bravery and the problems other crime victims experienced on foreign flagged cruise ships ("the cruise line didn't help her at all . . . "). The interview of Congresswoman Matsui starts at 10:20 and ends at 20:10.
Click here to play the radio interview:
Laurie Meets President Obama in the White House
Four and one half years after the crime on the high seas, Laurie was invited with Congresswoman Matsui to the White House by President Obama to watch him sign the new cruise law into effect.
Laurie's interview starts at 21:20 and ends at 30:00.
You can hear how Laurie went from a victim to a victim's advocate in order to protect others. As Congresswoman Matui explains, "without Laurie Dishmans in the world this would not have happened."
For information about the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, consider reading:
Earlier this year, I first learned of Avvo's "Top Legal Blogs" while reading a solo blogger lamenting that his law blog fell out of Avvo's top 10 law blog list. I was intrigued by the rankings and began to read the top blogs to try and figure out why they were so popular.
Some of the blogs were really interesting and I began to follow them on a regular basis. Some were dreadfully boring, or at least I thought so. All of the blogs had been publishing for many years.
Unlike the individual lawyers Avvo ratings, the Avvo top legal blog list is based on the Alexa ranking system which some have criticized. It is nonetheless a good indicator of a blog or web site's traffic rankings.
The Alexa system lists a website or blog in two ways: (1) its ranking in the world, and (2) its ranking in the United States.
Cruise Law News (CLN) is ranked (at the moment) as the top 36th law blog in the world, and a top 10 law blog in the U.S. It also happens to be the number one blog in personal injury law (just nudging ahead of the well known New York Personal Injury Law Blog).
Alexa tells us which blogs have a lot of "traffic," but is it a valid system for ranking law blogs? I'd like to think so, given CLN's high ranking and its fast climb to the top rankings for a new law blog. But others say that being popular does not equate to being influential or useful.
What are the best indicators of success and recognition other than Alexa? What list is considered to be the most credible and/or coveted list of top law blogs?
If you have a thought about this, please leave a comment below . . .
On September 7, 2009, I launched my blog, Cruise Law News (CLN). My goal was to be a leading source of news and legal commentary regarding the cruise industry.
Well, here we are, September 7, 2010, one year later. What a year!
My little blog is far more successful than I ever thought. Yes, it has taken a lot of work - this is my 356th article in the last 365 days! I have written about cruise ship rapes, sexual assaults of children, arrest of peophiles, passenger disappearances, and cruise ship fires, groundings and sinkings. Everything the cruise lines like to keep secret.
From a quantitative perspective (per Alexa rankings), CLN is now ranked as the no. 1 maritime law blog in the U.S., the no. 2 law blog in Florida, the no. 2 personal injury blog in the U.S., and the 50th most popular law blog over-all in the U.S. My websitegrader score is 99 (a grade I never received in school); there are 902 indexed pages of CLN on Google; and there are 48,230 inbound links. I am averaging over 25,000 unique visitors a month, and my traffic is in the top 1.53% of all websites.
And to add some icing to the cake, Cruise Law News is several times more popular that the official blog of the President of one of the major cruise line (Royal Caribbean) who writes from the "Nation Of Why Not?" If you want transparent news, people know to come here to CLN rather than wade through the gobbledygook at the cruise line's corporate blog.
Cruise Law News has been cited in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bahamas Journal, Italy's "Chi l'ha Visto?" television show, Germany's Wunderwelt Wisen magazine, the popular on line cruise community CruiseCritic, South Florida Business Journal, Baltimore Sun, Bahamas Tribune, Sun Sentinel, Washington Post, and MSNBC.
Our real success comes from our everyday readers - crew members, passengers, travel agents, cruise haters and cruise lovers. We have heard from people in Great Britain, France, Mauritania, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Canada and countries throughout the Caribbean islands. Thanks for your questions and the valuable information you provided us!
One big thank you is in order. Kevin O'Keefe and his team at LexBlog created my site a year ago. They are the best in the law blog business. Lexblog designed a nice looking, functional blog.
They provided concise recommendations to me, and encouraged me to blog. Thanks Kevin for creating LexBlog and pointing me in the right direction!
Here are some highlights of the fun we have had over the last year:
Compared to the one page ticket issued to passengers on the Titanic 100 years ago, the cruise contracts today read like mini enclyclopedias crammed full of every imaginable clause to protect the cruise line.
The article is by Christopher Elliott who is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. He also is a consumer travel advocate who writes at Elliott.org.
Mr. Eliott interviewed me and some others in the article:
Seven Clauses To Be Aware Of In Your Cruise Contract
If you ever want to feel confused, outraged and powerless all at the same time, just read your cruise line’s ticket contract.
Carrie Streahle didn’t know what was in hers until her cruise arrived late in Houston, and she had to pay an extra $1,900 in airfares and accommodations to get home. She contacted Carnival, asking for reimbursement.
“Carnival’s first response was that we didn’t have travel insurance,” she says. She protested. The cruise line responded again, this time blaming Mother Nature. “They said they can’t control the weather,” she says.
No kidding. Carnival’s ticket contract specifically says it can change arrival or departure times without notice, for any reason whatsoever, including weather. “Carnival shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances,” it adds.
“Carnival is not at fault because they were delayed by an act of nature,” says Anita Dunham-Potter, who writes the blog ExpertCruiser. “When this happens, they have no control over the port, or the time it takes customs to clear the ship, which is ultimately what decides the time you can get off the ship.”
Cruise contracts are filled with clauses and supported by laws that the average passenger doesn’t know about. If they did, they might think twice before setting sail. The paperwork addresses everything from what the cruise line owes you when something goes wrong (not much) when it’s responsible for your well-being (hardly ever) to where and when you can sue them (in a faraway court, and almost never).
“No one reads the fine print,” says Al Anolik, a travel attorney in San Francisco. But if you do — and a warning to all you non-attorneys out there, this isn’t light reading — you’ll find the law limits the rights of passengers in many key areas, such as a cap on damages you can collect from a cruise line and time limits on any lawsuit.
“There are no consumer protections in the ticket,” adds maritime attorney James M. Walker, who writes a blog about cruise law. “It was drafted by the cruise lines lawyers to protect the cruise lines at the consumer’s expense. It is a one-sided document.”
So what do you need to know before you set sail?
Your laws aren’t our laws. That’s not hyperbole. It’s literally true, according to Robert M. Jarvis, a maritime law professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The law governing cruises has nothing to do with where a passenger lives or buys a ticket,” he says. “Instead, federal maritime law, international law, the law of the country where the cruise ship is registered — typically the Bahamas, Liberia, or Panama — and the law selected by the cruise line are going to control, and all of these favor the cruise line.” That’s why it’s so hard to find a good lawyer to sue a cruise line. There aren’t many. Maritime law, or admiralty law, is “incredibly complex,” says Jarvis. “Only a few lawyers have the necessary training and experience to deal with such matters, and most of them are working for the cruise lines,” he adds.
Don’t hold us to the brochure. The ship may — or may not — keep the promised schedule. This is perhaps the most irritating contract provision. Here’s Royal Caribbean’s: “Carrier may for any reason at any time and without prior notice, cancel, advance, postpone or deviate from any scheduled sailing, port of call, destination, lodging or any activity on or off the Vessel, or substitute another vessel or port of call, destination, lodging or activity.” What’s more, it owes you nothing if it does. “Everything is subject to change and availability,” says Kristen Bentz, a travel consultant in Mesa, Ariz. “Basically, prices, rooms, excursions, itineraries, and anything not guaranteed is up to the cruise line’s discretion.”
The quack who treated you isn’t our problem. Most medical care on cruise ships is perfectly adequate. But just in case it isn’t, cruise lines have a clause that say they aren’t responsible for the malpractice of the ship’s doctors. Have a look at paragraph 13 of Princess’ passage contract: “Doctors, nurses or other medical or service personnel work directly for Passenger and shall not be considered to be acting under the control or supervision of Carrier, since Carrier is not a medical provider. Similarly, and without limitation, all spa personnel, photographers, instructors, guest lecturers and entertainers and other service personnel shall be considered independent contractors who work directly for the Passenger.” In other words, when a doctor’s negligence leads to the death of a family member, the cruise line is off the hook. “The passenger is left with the problem of having to bring a claim against the doctor who inevitably is not a U.S. citizen, often has no insurance, and is not subject to personal jurisdiction here in the U.S.,” says Walker.
Kids and retirees are second-class citizens. The survivors of children or retired passengers who die on cruise ships have no right to compensation except for burial and funeral expenses, according to Walker, who recently wrote about this quirky provision on his blog. It turns out that when passengers die on the high seas, the “Death On The High Seas Act” applies. “It limits the recovery of the surviving family members to what is called pecuniary losses,” he says. “This means that only lost wages and burial or funeral expenses are permitted.” If you’re a child or a retiree, and not earning wages, the only compensation is for the costs of the burial.
Wanna sue us? Come to Miami. These are called “forum selection” clauses, and they require you to sue the cruise line in a particular court. “Forum selection clauses have been routinely enforced for many years,” says Thomas Dickerson, author of the book Travel Law. “However, recently, the courts have consistently enforced a federal forum selection clause, which requires injured passengers to sue in federal court in Miami instead of state court — the significance being that jury trials may not be available in federal court.” That makes suing a cruise line difficult, and often impossible.
Time is short. There’s a one-year limitation period to file a claim, and a six-month period to write a letter to the cruise line when the passenger has been injured, says Walker, the maritime attorney. “This is a relatively short period of time, compared to the statute of limitations of most states,” he says. “Florida, for example, has a four-year limitations period.” What if you miss your deadline? Walker says people who have, contact him all the time. “There is nothing we can do for them.”
If you think that’s bad, get this: Experts agree that the contracts are getting worse. “In the last decade, cruise lines have had to tighten the reins,” says Bentz. “Contracts have gotten a little longer and a little less customer-friendly.” That means we may one day look back on 2010 as a time when cruise lines still cared about their passengers.
I have a sinking feeling that might be true.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This morning the Walker - O'Neill family arrived back in Miami at 7:30 a.m. after taking the "red eye" from Seattle. We spent two weeks enjoying British Columbia for a great vacation.
My family voted before our vacation that there would be no blogging. Out voted 3-1, I didn't even take my lap top with me. So my blogging hours were replaced with sightseeing in the beautiful capital of Victoria (great totems, photo left); surfing and whale watching (photo below right) in the fishing village of Tofino (Vancouver Island) ; mountain biking in Whistler; and finally a couple of days running and biking in Stanley Park in Vancouver. A great time.
Our two boys, who are now officially taller than me, had some fun clowning around in the Tofino Botanical Gardens with Mr. Skull Head (right, bottom).
The closest I could come to cruise law blogging was to tweet a photo of Pikes Market while visiting our niece in Seattle (yes that's the NCL Pearl in the background) and a photo of the close up of the NCL Pearl while we walked along the pier.
A lot of things happened in the world of cruise law news during our short vacation:
President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, as reported by Consumer Reports. Our client, Laurie Dishman, traveled to the White House for a photo with the President Obama in the Oval Office. We will be blogging about this and will include a photo of Laurie and President Obama. Wow! We are so proud of Laurie. We will be talking about the new cruise safety law in the next several weeks.
A newspaper in Seattle reported on the one year anniversary of the the mysterious disappearance of Amber Malkuch from Holland American Lines' Zaadam cruise ship, as reported by Seattle's KOMO News (read the comments to the story). Cruise Line News (CLN) discussed Ms. Malkuch's death a year ago. We criticized the cruise line's PR decision to label the disappearance as a "suicide" even before the Alaskan State Troopers concluded its investigation - "Suicide" - One of the Cruise Lines' Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea.
Passengers and crew members continue to contact our firm after being sexually assaulted or victimized during cruises on Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean ships. Stay tuned for articles about how the cruise lines try and cover these crimes up, notwithstanding the new cruise law.
Royal Caribbean filed motions in three cases falsely accusing me of conspiring to steal secret safety information from the cruise line, in an effort to kick me off of the cases. Being recklessly accused by a corporate felon like Royal Caribbean invigorates me and validates my work as a cruise safety advocate. In the next month, we will publish articles about Royal Caribbean's outrageous conduct and will include copies of motions, deposition transcripts and court orders regarding Royal Caribbean's efforts to harm our firm and our clients.
We will win this dispute.
And we will obtain our attorney fees incurred in defending our little firm from these malicious charges by this $15 billion criminal corporation.
You can bank on that. And you will read about it first here on Cruise Line News (CLN).
Its great to come back from a nice relaxing vacation, and jump right back into the frying pan.
The reception was held in the Capital building and was well attended by Congressional leaders and their staff, members of the ICV, members of victim and rape crisis non-profit organizations, and the press.
The highlight of the reception included the appearance of Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D - CA) who introduced the new cruise safety bill in the House of Representatives after her constituent, Laurie Dishman, was a victim of a violent crime on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Congressman Ted Poe (R - TX) also attended and spoke at the reception.
ICV President Ken Carver spoke to the group and chronicled the formation of the ICV and the struggle against the cruise industry over the past five years to get the cruise safety law passed.
OK time to brag a bit. Today my blog was added to Avvo's "Top Legal Blogs." Cruise Law News is currently the 55th most popular law blog in the United States. The blog has been the highest climbing law blog this year.
For bloggers like me, that's exciting news. Blogs are vehicles for education and ultimately social and political change. The higher ranked a blog becomes, the greater the opportunity for it to be read.
Cruise Law News was launched just over 9 months ago. So in the blog world, it's still a baby. My readers and subscribers have increased every month. It is by far the the highest ranked blog, or website for that matter, which covers maritime law. I expect it to become a top 25 law blog by the end of the year.
My blog has been instrumental in educating the public about what really happens during cruises. We publish the type of information that the cruise lines don't want you to know about.
There are a number of blogs published by the cruise lines. Royal Caribbean's president, Adam Goldstein, has a pretty popular blog called Why Not? But it is 90% marketing PR. Not surprisingly, it's also less popular than Cruise Law News. Many more readers are coming to this blog to read articles about Royal Caribbean than to the cruise president's own site.
Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a safety bill for cruise passengers which will require cruise ships to reports crimes on the high seas to the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The bill will require the cruise industry to comply with a number of security provisions including specific rail heights, peep holes, warning devices, and cabin security measures. The requirment that cruise lines must inform the FBI of disappearances and sexual assaults is important, because Cruise Lines Often Don't Report Crimes.
The bill is called the "Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act" (H.R. 3360). It was authored by Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA). Congresswoman Matsui (photo left) began convening hearings on the issue of cruise line when her constituent, and our client Laurie Dishman (pictured with her father Bill), approached her after being sexually assaulted aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2006.
Congresswoman Matsui commented that the safety bill "is a critical and common-sense fix which will provide safety and security to Americans who go on cruise vacations without realizing they are not protected under U.S. laws when they leave its territorial waters."
“H.R. 3360 will improve the safety and security of all cruise ship passengers traveling in and out U.S. waters,” said Rep. Matsui. “Current law doesn’t pass the test of providing common-sense security measures to the traveling public to help protect them from crimes committed aboard ships or to adequately prevent individuals from going overboard. Moreover, current law does not provide the support victims and their families need in the event of a disaster. This legislation is critical to providing the security and safety measures that all Americans need and deserve, no matter if they are on land or at sea.”
Senator John F. Kerry championed the cruise bill in the Senate. His constituent, Merrian Carver, disappeared under suspicious circumstances from the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship. The cruise line, Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruises, did not alert law enforcement. Her father, Ken Carver, mounted an investigation which exposed a cover up. Mr. Carver then created the ICV to assist other passengers victimized on cruise ships.
Senator Kerry issued a statement on the passing of the safety bill: “Murky lines of jurisdiction are no longer an excuse for risking the safety of millions of Americans who will board cruise ships this year. I applaud my colleagues for helping to ensure that security, safety, and accountability be strengthened to hold criminals accountable and end the cycle of serious crimes on these vessels.”
Mr. Carver commented "When the cruise safety legislation is signed into law, it will serve to protect Americans across the nation during what ought to be relaxing vacations. Without Congresswoman Matsui's efforts in the House and Senator Kerry's efforts in the U.S. Senate, this legislation would not have moved forward.”
After minor differences between the House and Senate version are reconciled, President Obama will sign the bill into law by July 4th!
Congratulations to the ICV for taking these steps to protect familes on cruise ships. Cruising will be safer due to your efforts.
Local Miami news station WSVN - 7 News ran a story that a record 52,000 cruise passengers sailed to or from from Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) on nine cruise ships today.
The news station reported that "travelers from around the globe arrived at the port to set sail and help break a world record."
The story reminded me of the diversity of our law firm's clients and the wide variety of their problems.
In the past few days, we were contacted by a passenger seriously injured on the Oasis of the Seas' flow-rider, another passenger who underwent surgery after a glass door shattered, several seriously injured crew members sent back to their home countries without medical treatment, and even a newly-wed couple abandoned at a port when the cruise ship left early without informing them.
The most heartbreaking story comes from a mother whose daughter was sexually abused by a crew member - a problem we have addressed in many prior articles.
There is no doubt that the cruise industry is a juggernaut - big, rich and growing. There also is no doubt that there remain fundamental problems on cruise ships - inadequate medical treatment, an indifference to the passengers and crew after they have been injured, and sexual predators who prey on children.
Miami is called the Cruise Ship Capital of the World.
Most of the major cruise lines are based in South Florida. Azimara, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, and Star Clippers all call Miami or Fort Lauderdale their headquarters.
And if you are injured on one of these cruise ships anywhere in the world, the cruise lines require passengers to make a claim in South Florida - no matter where you live or what port you may have sailed from.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Carnival cruise line to enforce a "forum selection clause" in a passenger's ticket which requires passengers to file their claims in Miami, Florida. The case is called Shute v. Carnival. The Shute family was from Oregon and a family member was injured after sailing from Los Angeles to Mexico.
The Shute family tried to file suit in Oregon. Carnival moved to dismiss the case because there was a clause in the Shutes' ticket requiring that all lawsuits against Carnival must be filed in Miami, where Carnival in headquartered. The Shutes argued that having to travel several thousands of miles to Miami was an economic hardship. And why should Carnival - which registered its business in Panama to avoid U.S. taxes - have a home court advantage in Miami for every case? But the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Carnival and ruled that the Shute family had to file suit in Miami and be prepared to fly here to pursue their case.
Since the Shute decision, all cruise lines have included "forum selection" clauses in the passengers' cruise tickets. Most cruise lines require that the lawsuit be filed here in Miami. These clauses are legally binding and the cruise line will always enforce them.
The passengers' cruise tickets also require that the passenger (or their lawyer) notify the cruise line of the accident and intention of filing a lawsuit within six (6) months of the accident and the lawsuit must be filed within one (1) year.
If you are a passenger interested in further information, please consider reading:
I come from a family of prolific readers. My Dad has read every Louis L'Amour book ever written. My Mom started my brother, sister and me out on the Hobbitt when we were little kids. She bought me J.R.R. Tolkin's Lord of the Rings Trilogy when I was 9 years old (its still sitting in my home office, mostly unread).
My Mom, no doubt, has read more books than anyone alive. She stills perfectly quotes Shakespeare lines she learned in college in the early 1950's (not bad for a girl born in Calion - population 600 - Arkansas).
But me? I loved comic books. Still do.
One of my favorite comic books is Papy Plouf (a/k/a Grampa Splash). I have read it cover-to cover, over-and-over.
This is an absurd comic book, en francais, written and drawn by Martin Veyron.
What's it about you ask?
Older passengers on a cruise ship begin dying mysteriously. The ship doctor has to try and determine why this is happening - while keeping the cruise line's executives happy by secreting disposing of the mounting dead bodies.
But before he can do so, a mutiny breaks out on the cruise ship. The staff captain tries to depose the Captain. Pirates try to board the cruise ship. Then a tsunami heads to destroy the sick and mutinous ship!
Is this just fictional writing by a creative writer?
No. It actually sounds a lot like the recent travails of the "Cursed Cruise Ship of the High Seas" - The Balmoral - the focus of my last article. Hundreds of puking passengers, pirates trying to board, a cruise ship bouncing around in extreme weather . . . all the while acting like everything is just fine.
This is why I am intrigued by cruise lines. They try to live in a world unto themselves.
Everyday I walk into my office and learn of the latest cruise debacle, I feel like I am entering a world more absurd than any Papy Plouf comic book I have ever read.
The House of Representatives passed the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act (HR 3360) today. This cruise bill was previously part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2009, but was voted on today as a 'stand alone" bill to speed up its enactment.
Congress approved the bill by a resounding vote of 416 to 4.
A number of "All Star" Congressmen and Congresswomen spoke at the hearing today. Here are the highlights of this historic event:
Cruise Ships - "Floating Pieces of Other Countries" - and the Need for U.S. Laws to Protect Americans
Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) explained the problem of a lack of accountability of the foreign flagged cruise ships which become "floating pieces of other countries" once the ships are outside of U.S. waters. He recognized the need for cruise lines to adopt reasonable safety measures to protect U.S. passengers. Some of the measures are simple and a matter of common sense, such as the requirement that all doors be fitted with peepholes so that passengers inside cabins can determine who is outside of their doors. Congress was previously provided with testimony of passengers who opened their doors and were raped by crew members.
Other safeguards include the requirements that cruise ships maintain supplies of anti-retroviral medications for rape victims (to prevent HIV / AIDS) and employ trained personnel to collect and preserve evidence following sexual assault. Cruise lines are also required to report sexual assaults and other crimes to the F.B.I. and U.S. Coast Guard and maintain a link to this data base on the cruise lines' websites. This last measure is important because cruise lines have a well deserved reputation for concealing cruise crimes from the public.
A Cruise Victim's "Courage, Conviction & Dedication"
Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), who introduced the crime bill, thanked her constituent (and our client) Laurie Dishman for her "courage, conviction, and dedication" after she was raped aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Ms. Matsui explained that after the crime, the cruise line provided no assistance whatsoever to Ms. Dishman in securing the crime scene, or identifying the attacker, or in prosecuting the crime. The ship doctor gave Ms. Dishman a trash bag and told her to return to the crime scene and collect the evidence herself. Congresswoman Matui characterized the need for the cruise crime bill as "urgent and necessary."
Cruise Line "Outrageous Conduct and Callous Disregard"
Congressman Shadegg described Royal Caribbean's conduct of obstructing the efforts of Ms. Carver's parents to find out what happened to their daughter as "outrageous" and exhibiting "callous disregard." He urged the adoption of the cruise law to protect other families who lose loved ones on the high seas. A video of Mr. Shadegg is below.
"Disturbing & Startling" Large Number of Cruise Ship Crimes
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) criticized the cruise industry for concealing the large number of shipboard rapes. He mentioned a "disturbing and startling" article in the LA Times ("Cruise Industry's Dark Waters") which revealed that in a period of only 32 months Royal Caribbean had over 250 incidents of where cruise victims were sexually assaulted, battered or sexually harassed. (Our firm handled the case where a Court in Miami ordered the cruise line to reveal this information under a threatened sanction of $1,000 a day).
Congressman Poe discussed Ms. Dishman's case where Royal Caribbean did nothing to assist her but sent her a letter after the rape thanking her for her business and enclosing a discount coupon for a future cruise! He recognized Ms. Dishman for exposing the "atrocities" on this cruise line's fleet of cruise ships.
Cruise Ship "Culture of Indifference" Toward Victims
Congressman James Oberstar, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also thanked Ms. Dishman who overcame her "terrible experience" with Royal Caribbean, found the "courage to testify" before Congress regarding her ordeal, and was "determined to see justice done." He praised her for working to change "the culture aboard cruise ships of indifference" toward crime victims.
On to the Senate!
The next step toward protecting the cruising public is a vote in the Senate.
Want to get involved in the ICV? Contact the ICV's President Ken Carver email@example.com.
We have ordered the C-SPAN coverage of the hearing today and will be posting the ventire ideo in the next week. Below is the video of Congressman Shadegg's comments regarding the daughter of one his constituients, Ken Carver:
I first became intrigued with Twitter when I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech in February of this year. The galley was filled with people twittering away on their Blackberries and iphones, sending out their own spin on the President’s speech. CNN covered the story and added their own perspective via @CNN.
A few days later I registered @CruiseLaw. I was hooked. In March, I started a Twitter forage that continues today.
Now a little over six months later, I can’t imagine not interacting with the people who follow me on Twitter. I have connected with more people on Twitter in the last 6 months than I have in real life in last 30 years. 6,700 followers. OK, I admit it. I don’t know them all.
But the experience has led to newspaper and radio interviews, business referrals across the U.S., a modest group of fans and an even larger group of enemies who follow my tweets religiously for no other reason than to instantly and vigorously disagree with me. I like the agitators and detractors best. It has been fun.
Lawyers USA Weekly recently ran an interesting article by Sylvia Hsieh which featured four lawyers who successfully turned their tweets into clients. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available on line without a subscription. But Bruce Carlton (@brucecarton) of Legal Blog Watch did a good job summarizing my small part in the article as follows:
"James Walker (@CruiseLaw) an attorney in South Miami, Fla., whose practice is devoted solely to suing cruise lines on behalf of injured passengers. Walker tweets about the three things he knows best: cruise ship law, cruise ship law and cruise ship law."
Its pretty funny to be pigeon-holed so accurately by a reporter in a 15 minute telephone interview.
Cruise Ship Law. Exactly. Welcome to my place in the Twitter Kingdom.
Cruise ship accidents, injuries, crimes, disappearances, fires, and collisions on the high seas involve issues of maritime law. Jim Walker graduated from law school in 1983 and has been handling maritime law cases for the past thirty-one years. He handles a wide variety of cases from serious injuries to the highest profile sexual assault and cruise crime cases.
Jim focuses his maritime law practice on representing cruise passengers and crew members in cases against cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America Line, Princess and Norwegian Cruise Line among others.
The firm handles cases on a "contingency" basis - meaning that you do not send us a retainer and we do not bill you for our fees or expenses.
We advance all costs and are reimbursed for our time and costs only if we are successful in reaching a settlement or we win the case for you.
Jim's firm represents passengers throughout the United States, Canada, England and Europe. 95% of his U.S. clients live outside of Florida, from New York to California.
Jim handles the following types of cases:
Medical malpractice cases arising from bad treatment by cruise ship doctors and nurses.
Slip and fall accidents on wet decks, buffet floors, and slippery pool decks.
Sexual assaults on cruise ships, by crew members or other passengers.
Physical assaults and battery, often due to intoxicated passengers.
Overboard passengers and “disappearances” at sea.
Injuries during shore excursions.
Injuries and deaths on tour excursion vehicles, "safari" buses, jet-skis and recreational watercraft.
Injuries while boarding tenders to and from the cruise ships.
Cruise ship catastrophes - fires, sinkings and collisions.
Injuries and deaths arising from terrorist and pirate attacks.
CREW MEMBERS CASES
Jim has handled many hundreds of cases against cruise lines like Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Oceania, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Silversea. The types of cases include:
Delayed and improper medical care on the cruise ship.
Failure to provide medical treatment ashore.
Medical negligence by doctors hired by the cruise lines in foreign countries
Failure to pay wages and living expenses in a timely manner.
Abandoning the crew member in their home country after becoming injured or ill.
Neck, shoulder and back injuries to waiters due to lifting heavy trays.
Slip and falls in the galley.
Injuries to stateroom attendants.
Accidents handling luggage during embarkation day.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Jim is handling cases of crew members from countries like Jamaica, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Nicaragua, Serbia, Croatia, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.
"Everything the cruise lines don't want you to know" is the motto of this award winning maritime law blog authored by Miami lawyer Jim Walker.
The New York Times describes Jim as "a maritime lawyer in Miami who has attended more than half a dozen Congressional hearings about cruise ship crime and passenger safety." Jim has been involved in maritime litigation since 1983. Based in Miami, Florida, Jim represents passengers and crew members injured or assaulted on cruise ships around the world.
In 2015, Jim has continued as one of the "go to" maritime lawyers when things go wrong on the high seas.
The GO-TO CRUISE LAW ATTORNEY - FEATURED IN HUNDREDS OF TELEVISION, CABLE NEWS, RADIO, DOCUMENTARY, MAGAZINE & NEWSPAPER ARTICLES AND PROGRAMS ABOUT CRUISE SHIP ACCIDENTS, INJURIES, SEXUAL ASSAULTS AND CONTROVERSIES
In 2012, Jim appeared on ABC's 20/20 special on the Costa Concordia disaster. He appeared on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Sea" about passengers and crew members disappearing from cruise ships. Jim was featured on PBS's documentary "Disasters at Sea: Why Ships Sink" which looked at cruise disasters from the Titanic's sinking in 1912 to the current date. He also appeared on CNN's special "Cruise to Disaster" which explored the Concordia disaster.
Jim attended Duke University and graduated cum laude in 1980. He attended Tulane University School of Law, graduating in 1983 after taking Tulane’s internationally renowned admiralty curriculum.
Jim has experience regarding issues of cruise ship crime and sexual assault. Over the past ten years, he has represented over 1,000 clients including over 75 individuals who have been victimized on cruise ships, cruise excursions and ports of call. Six of Jim’s clients have testified before the United States Congress regarding cruise ship safety. Jim has handled the following cases in the past ten years:
The case of Laurie Dishman, sexually assaulted on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. Her case resulted in changes to the cruise industry and the introduction of the Cruise Ship Safety and Security Act of 2010.
The “Missing Honeymooner Case” involving the disappearance of George Smith IV of Greenwich Connecticut from Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship. Jim represented Mr. Smith’s widow, Jennifer Hagel.
Over 75 sexual assault cases against women and children on cruise ships, resulting in many million and multi-million dollars settlements.
The 2006 Star Princess fire disaster. The cruise ship fire resulted in one hundred cabins being destroyed and the death of one passenger, Richard Liffridge. Jim represented Mr. Liffridge’s family in litigation against Princess Cruises in California.
Numerous cases involving serious injury and death of passengers and crew members aboard Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise ships.
Jim is married to Lisa O’Neill who he met while they were undergraduates in college thirty years ago. Jim and Lisa are also law partners.
Lisa is also a Duke cum laude graduate, and attended the University of Florida School of Law in Gainesville, Florida. She served on Law Review as the Senior Articles Editor, won the prestigious Gertrude Brick Award, and graduated cum laude. Jim and Lisa work on all cases together.
In 1999, the firm created the web site CruiseLaw.com as an information resource for passengers and crew members worldwide. Here is what some publications are saying about Jim Walker:
"King of anti-cruise tirades . . . his impressive background and litigation record against cruise lines must be taken seriously." - Travel Weekly.
"Perpetual Pain-In-The-Cruise-Lines-Neck Jim Walker" - Gadling.
Lexblog names Cruise Law News "Blog of the Year" writing: ". . . no attorney’s passion shows through more than Jim Walker’s in his blog, Cruise Law News. Not only is he an advocate for cruise passengers, but also a fervent watchdog for the industry as a whole. His 2014 included, among a multitude of accomplishments, traveling to Washingto, DC to back Senator Rockefeller’s Cruise Passenger Protection Act and forcing government officials in the Bahamas to have to answer to their ranking on hit the Top 10 worst destinations."
Jim is the author of Cruise Law News - described as a "Hard-Hitting Blog" by Miami's Daily Business Review.
The U.K. Metro newspaper refers to Jim as the "Devil of Cruise Reporting."
LexBlog says "Walker is the world’s leading reporter on deaths, injuries, and safety matters relating to the cruise industry. Via his blog, he not only reports the news, but is the de facto cruise industry watchdog."
Admiralty Law Committee of the Florida Bar (former member)
American Association for Justice, Admiralty Law Section
Florida Admiralty Trial Lawyers Association
Maritime Law Association of the United States
Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum
Southeast Admiralty Law Institute
Kent School, Kent Connecticut 1976
Duke University, Durham North Carolina 1980
Tulane School of Law, New Orleans Louisiana 1983
Florida Bar Association
Louisiana Bar Association (not active)
United States District Courts, Eastern District of Louisiana and Southern District of Florida
Media, Television, Radio, Magazines and Newspapers
Jim and his clients have been featured on television, cable news and radio shows, as well as in documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles.
ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, FOXNews, DATELINE, 48 HOURS, 20/20, Larry King Live, A & E Investigative Reports, Hannity & Colmes, Greta Van Sustern, Nancy Grace, Inside Edition, Julie Banderas, Big Story Weekend, CourtTV, Catherine Crier, Montel Williams, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Mike & Juliet, Geraldo Rivera, Nancy Bloom, Dan Abrams, UK’s BBC-Radio 4, Heartland w/John Kasich, E! Entertainment, TruTV, Canada’s CATV-5, Good Morning America, TIME Magazine, National Law Journal, RADAR Magazine, Lawyer’s Weekly USA, Miami Herald, American Law Media, Tradewinds, Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel, Miami Business Review, LA Times, NY Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Florida Today, Daytona Beach Journal, Sacramento Bee, Washington Post, Greenwich Times, Greenwich Citizen, Greenwich Post, San Francisco Chronicle, U.K.'s Telegraph, St. Petersburg Times, Miami’s New Times, U.K. Mirror, London’s Guardian, Edmonton Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Bahamas Journal, Italy's "Chi l'ha Visto?" television show, Germany's Wunderwelt Wisen, CruiseCritic, South Florida Business Journal, Open Secrets organization, Queerty, Baltimore Sun, Bahamas Tribune, National Public Radio (NPR), USA Today, Gadling, FOX Business, Slate Magazine, ABA Journal, Australia's The Age, Attorney at Law Magazine, Huffington Post, U.K.'s Daily Mail, BBC, Freeport (Bahamas) News, Haaretz, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia, Palm Beach Post, India Times, E Turbo News, Global Travel News, Comunidade News (Brazil), Canada's CTV, OutFront with CNN's Erin Burnett, Slate, The Daily, London's Financial Times, Newsweek Magazine, Newsweek's The Daily Beast Blog, Fund Web, Reuters, Consumer Affairs, Australia's Herald Sun, Canada's NewsTalk 1010 Radio, Houston Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Tampa Bay Business Journal, Perez Hilton, Business Insider, Greenwich Magazine, Herald Sun, CNN Money, the Australian newspaper, Christian Science Monitor, International Business Times, Maritime Executive, Businessweek, Bloomberg, Alaska Dispatch, Minnesota Post, Virgin Islands Daily News, Arizona Republic, Trip Advisor, Daily Kos, Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper, Antigua Observer, N.Y. Daily News, U.K.'s Daily Mail, UPI, Inquisitr, Christian Post, KTIC Radio, Cordova Times, Bloomberg News, Business Insider, Times of Malta, CNN Opinion, Wall Street Journal Blog. Newsday, CBC Radio (Canada), American Public Media Market Place, WGN Radio (Chicago) Chicago Tribune, WWL Radio (Miami), CNBC Squawk on the Street, WIOD Radio (Miami) and the Associated Press have all covered Jim’s cases and his client's causes.
Watch Jim on ABC's 20/20 program in January 2012 about the Costa Concordia disaster:
Watch Jim on Australia's Dateline program "Lost at Seas" in March 2012 about cruise ship disappearances:
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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