I used to be a cruise line defense lawyer.

In 1996, I tried my last defense case, for Dolphin Cruise Lines.  The cruise line was sued by a crew member who slipped and fell on a wet floor of a photography room on the S/S Oceanbreeze.  He underwent back surgery and returned to his home country unemployable.  The crew member’s lawyer asked the jury to return a verdict of over $1,000,000.  But after a six day trial, the jury returned a defense verdict on the Jones Act, unseaworthiness and failure to provide medical treatment allegations in my client’s favor.

Defense lawyers are suppose to be happy when they win a case like this.  But when the jury returned to the courtroom and the foreperson smiled at me, I felt uneasy.  Yes, the cruise line’s Rock - Balance - Whistler - Canada head of risk management sitting next to me was ecstatic.  And the cruise line’s underwriters I reported to were pleased that I kept their money safe.

The defense verdict was upheld on appeal, with the appellate court writing an opinion which explained how effectively I cross examined the crew member and his fact and expert witnesses.  I was a zealous advocate for my client, no doubt.  I had soundly defeated the biggest name in Miami who represented crew members.

But I didn’t like the praise for winning the case.  This crew member deserved better.  His lawyers were unprepared and did, at best, a less-than-average job trying his case.  I understood that the verdict left the disabled crew member with nothing.  He had no means to support his wife or three children.  Sometimes I would awake in the still quiet of the night, wondering what I was doing.

One year later, I turned my cruise line cases back to the cruise line and its underwriters.  I opened my own law firm, advertising that I represented only people injured on cruise ships.  But I had no clients, not a single passenger or crew member to represent.

This was the most liberating feeling I have ever felt.

When I win cases today, I don’t have mixed feelings.  And I have never slept better.

I know that I’m on the right side of the fence – trying cases against lawyers who awake in the dead of the night wondering what the hell they are doing.


Photo Credit:

Jim Walker    Rock Balance – Whistler, Canada  August 2010

  • thank God there are still lawyers with character and dignity, say more, even though there are still people with these qualities, qualities which are unfortunately esssas endangered today, where money buys everything and everyone.

  • Thanks for sharing, I had no idea you were at the other side. I guess that without being there, you would not have been as experienced as you are now.

  • Eric Rappe’

    I for one am SO glad you did!

  • Louease

    thanks for sharing,glad ur on our side!

  • tinikini

    AWESOME JIM!!! Nice to know some background. No wonder you are so well rehearsed. I so enjoy this site!!!

  • Julie Spinner

    Here’s to hoping the rest of corporate America will have the same moments of contemplation in the still quiet of night. Bless you for everything you do. We need more more like you.

  • Charles Blanton

    I really enjoyed reading this. Working for a foreclosure firm now after trying desperately to get into a public interest org. Hoping to get enough experience to one day represent those who need a voice in the courts….

  • carla

    Its good to know that u been in the other side …so now u can understand better the feelings of the others….in this case crewmember….many people does not how the people who work on cruise ships earn each dollar and some abuses that they suffer…..its a good thing what u do Jim…crewmwmbers need u.

  • Sylvia

    Jim – thank you for sharing – it’s refreshing to see and hear about lawyers who really care about doing the right thing. I feel for so many of the crew members who work so very very hard and yet the parent company nickle and dime them just like they do with the passengers. Please continue to fight for the little guy.

  • Susan

    Thank you for changing sides. Those of us who live at cruise ship destinations have not had much of a voice. You and your page provide us with a forum to communicate and information to fight for the survival of our reefs, nature and way of life.

  • lissa

    So glad you can sleep at night. I think you made the right choice.

  • John Rohan

    If your conscience bothered you, would it have been possible to offer a deal to the plaintiff for less than 1 million, but still with some money so he wouldn’t go home empty handed? Cruise lines, like any industry, need defense attorneys because there are con men and fakes out there who stage accidents to get a payout.