Every year or so, a travel agent with a blog will take it upon himself to level personal insults against us in a half-baked effort to defend the cruise industry.
One year ago, Richard Turen, a CLIA-certified travel agent, criticized me in an ill-conceived article which appeared in Travel Weekly. Mr. Turen’s blog, the ironically entitled Travel Truth, is 100% promotional-hype designed just to sell cruises. Mr. Turen is one of several travel writers, drunk on the CLIA Kool-Aid, who will never mention unpleasant issues like crimes on ships against women and children, exploitation of crew members, and fires & other maritime casualties involving the cruise industry. My response to his article, which you can read here, was one of my most popular articles last year.
Yesterday, another CLIA travel agent and a Travel Weekly Silver Award Winner named Eric Goldring (photo right) of Goldring Travel in New Jersey, took a cheap shot against our firm on his blog Goldring Travel’s This is My Yacht – Cruise & Travel. He accused our firm of "Trying to Defend Their Bringing Frivolous Cases Against Cruise Lines." He posted his article on Twitter and Facebook. He states that he’s "taking aim" at me.
Mr. Goldring responded to a recent article where I said that we are going to start mentioning the actual cases we file against cruise lines this year on Cruise Law News rather than just mentioning hot topics affecting the cruise lines in general. The Florida Bar’s ethical rules permit lawyers to discuss their cases as long as they don’t make statements that are likely to influence the jury to decide the case based on extrajudicial comments. The local federal rules expressly envision attorneys quoting portions of their lawsuits to the public or even attaching their lawsuits to their blogs or websites.
The reason I decided to do this is that many cruisers, including travelers in the "Cruise Critic" type of community, like to think that lawsuits against cruise lines are filed by "stupid" people who don’t accept personal responsibility for their own reckless behavior and the lawsuits are usually frivolous in nature and will end up making cruising more expensive. The cases we handle should dispel that notion.
Mr. Goldring, however, insists that our firm’s cases are "frivolous." He says that we don’t disclose claims "which they lost in court (and there are many of those)."
Now I should mention that travel-agent-Goldring is also an attorney who calls himself a "maritime lawyer." So he is not just a travel agent trying to use legal terms which he doesn’t understand. He’s a lawyer who should know the meaning of legal terms. Rule 3.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct states that lawyers can’t file a lawsuit “unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous.” Black’s Law Dictionary, in turn, defines “frivolous” as “lacking a legal basis or legal merit; not serious; not reasonably purposeful.”
Filing a frivolous lawsuit has dire consequences. The federal and state rules include severe disciplinary and monetary sanctions against lawyers who engage in frivolous filings and baseless argument. It is also a violation of the ethical rules in Florida to make false and misleading allegations against another lawyer.
As a lawyer licensed to practice in Florida as well as New Jersey, Mr. Goldring is bound by these ethical rules. With this in mind, I challenge Mr. Goldring to find a single case where a judge, jury, or ethics committee of a bar association has ever found that we filed a frivolous case or made a frivolous argument. He will find none. He will not even find a single maritime case out of the many hundreds upon hundreds that we filed where a cruise line has even claimed that we filed a frivolous case or engaged in frivolous conduct.
I also challenge Mr. Goldring to tell the public about the cases which we allegedly "lost in court." He states that "there are many of those." He will find none.
Mr. Goldring fancies himself as a defender of the cruise industry. His website contains diatribes against others who criticize the cruise lines. He attacked the well respected consumer advocate and National Geographic ombudsman Christoper Elliott in an article entitled "Christopher Elliott Engages in Yellow Journalism on MSNBC; A Misleading Attack on the Cruise Industry."
But his articles reveal him to be a buffoon. Goldring’s poorly written article contains many factual inaccuracies, embarrassing legal errors, grammatical mistakes, incomplete sentences, and misspelled words. He evens refers to my partner, Lisa O’Neill, as "McNeil." Let me point out a few other of Goldring’s confused rants:
Goldring claims that our firm "even (has) an app which encourages you to make claims through their firm, regardless of the facts (sic) that you probably will not recover anything. . . " This is patently false. Another law firm, not associated whatsoever with us, created an iPhone and Android app for passengers to take with them on cruises. (I agree that it’s tacky, but it’s not our idea).
Goldring says passengers shouldn’t consider seeking compensation because "in many instances if you are 50% or more at fault you receive nothing." Goldring is absolutely wrong about this too. New Jersey, where he has his law firm, is one of twenty-two (22) states which follow the archaic "51% Bar Rule," under which an injured party cannot recover if he is 51% (not 50% as Goldring says) or more at fault. But maritime cases are not governed by New Jersey law. The General Maritime Law applies to maritime cases. Maritime law applies the "Pure Comparative Fault Rule" which allows an injured party to recover even if he is 99% at fault (although the recovery is reduced by the party’s degree of fault). A competent lawyer learns this in law school.
Goldring claims that crew members have to prove that the cruise ship caused them to develop cancer before they can make a claim against the cruise line for the disease. Again, Goldring is wrong. Under the ancient maritime doctrine of "maintenance and cure," adopted into U.S. maritime law in the early nineteenth century and the Jones Act of 1920, crew members are absolutely entitled to receive the payment of living expenses, unearned wages, and medical treatment for all medical illnesses, including cancer, which manifest during their work on the ship. The crew member does not have to even prove that the cruise line is at fault. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that cruise lines often abandon the crew member in a distant country to die in order to avoid paying for the medical care. Punitive damages may also be assessed against recalcitrant cruise lines which callously refuse to provide maintenance and cure to ill crew members, a holding reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc., v. Edgar L. Townsend, 129 S.Ct. 2561 (2009), which is one of the most important maritime cases in 25 years. Any attorney calling himself a "maritime lawyer" should know this.
Goldring uses legal terms he doesn’t understand. He ends his embarrassing article saying "there is a simple concept in the law that applies in a number of negligence cases: Res ipsa loquitor (sic). (The thing speaks for itself)."
Putting aside that he misspelled "res ipsa loquitur," he misused the term to suggest that many passengers engage in such reckless conduct that it is obvious that they are to blame for the accident and their injuries. But the term deals with the presumed negligence of the defendant. In litigation involving the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise," a federal district judge recently applied "res ipsa loquitur" after reviewing the evidence of the cruise ship fire and resulting conditions suffered by the passengers. He concluded that these events ordinarily do not occur in the absence of negligence of the company operating the ship. The passengers were therefore relieved of the burden of proving that the cruise line was negligent. Lesson to be learned by Mr. Goldring, don’t use words you can’t spell, don’t understand and probably can’t pronounce.
At the end of the day, it ultimately does not matter whether Mr. Goldring, or any travel agent or cruise fan, agrees with me. I like a difference of opinion about issues involving the cruise industry. I look for dialogue and discussion. I don’t want a cult-of-personality audience. My goal is to raise awareness of issues that affect cruise passengers and crew member safety, security and well-being. Around 150,000 people, including many travel agents, around the world follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Over 1,700,000 people read over 6,100,000 pages of Cruise Law News last year. I encourage readers to leave comments. Well over 50% of the readers and people on Twitter & Facebook disagree with me. I have learned from listening to my readers and my opinions have changed. Debate is important, irrespective of a reader’s ultimate conclusion about the issue. Debate expands the circle of knowledge and brings changes which improve the world of cruising. Over the past decade I have seen hundreds of cruise passengers attend and testify at eight Congressional hearings in Washington D.C. where laws have been passed, over the cruise lines’ opposition, to make cruising safer.
The cruise lines, many travel agents and publications like Travel Weekly do not like critical information about shipboard crime and vessel safety to be freely exchanged via social media on blogs like ours and others. The cruise industry wants loyal CLIA members who will parrot the industry’s message, write about fantasy vacations on the high seas, and make the industry money. It wants critics and free-thinkers to be intimidated. Tactics of people like Mr. Goldring making false and misleading statements to sell cruise tickets in order to line their pockets underscore the industry’s dishonesty and greed.
Note: Mr. Goldring writes this about himself on his travel blog:
" . . . I am not only a luxury travel agent, but attorney specializing in yacht and ship law . . . I have litigated maritime cases from Norway to Australia . . . That is why I have such a good reputation with my clients and the cruise lines! I am, to self-promote, a knowledgeable, honest and fair travel agent."
Comment: Florida ethical rules prohibit a lawyer to state that he "specializes" in ship law unless he is board certified in maritime law by the Florida Bar’s board of certification. Mr. Goldring is not board certified.
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January 27 2015 Update: "Top" Travel Agent has History of Ethical Violations as Lawyer.
Photo Credit: Eric Goldring / Goldring Travel Facebook