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 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.
Jim Walker Rock Balance – Whistler, Canada August 2010