In 2010, the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) became law. The statute required, for the first time, cruise lines to disclose incidents of missing passengers, sexual assaults and other shipboard crimes to the American public.

The legislation was the result of the dedication and hard work of our client and good friend, Laurie Dishman (who traveled to Washington D.C. over 30 times), her Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), as well as other members of Congress, including Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX)(all photographed below).

A special thank you, of course, goes to former President Obama for signing the ground-breaking legislation into law. He warmly greeted Laurie in his office and acknowledged the brave and special person that she is, while demonstrating great generosity of spirit. President Barack Obama

At the hearing today before Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller regarding the “Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers," three women told the committee their horrific experiences on cruise ships.

All of their accounts involve the common theme of a lack of basic consumer protections. Laurie Dishman was a victim of rape, Amanda Butler’s mother experienced medical neglect leading to her death, and Kimberly Ware travel led aboard the carnival Triumph that suffered a complete power loss. 

Chairman Rockefeller has explained the purpose of the hearing as follows: “This hearing – along with the other hearings and inquiries I have made into the cruise industry since I have been Chairman of this Committee – are about one thing, accountability. When it comes to the cruise industry, we have been doing our job, while the industry has not. We have held hearings, we have analyzed the data, and we Cruise Ship Safety Hearinghave talked to many different people with experience in this industry. This oversight has led us very clearly to the conclusion that we have to act and pass legislation to better protect consumers. No other passengers should have to suffer when there are basic steps that can and should be taken to protect their safety and health.”

Laurie Dishman (testimony here) was a victim of a violent rape aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship (photo right with her father, Bill Dishman).

Although she was strangled (with ligature marks left around her neck) and the rapist impacted her tampon while assaulting her, the FBI quickly ended its limited investigation the same day that the cruise ship returned to port. The cruise line acted outrageously after the rape, sending officers into the cabin who sat on the bed where the rape occurred and the ship doctor handed her garbage bags and instructed her to return to the crime scene and collect evidence.

Amanda Butler’s (testimony here) mother was a victim of medical neglect aboard the Carnival Conquest. It took Carnival 15 minutes to send a nurse to the scene but she arrived without a defibrillator. The medical center was closed and it took additional time to open the infirmary. The Butler family flew Ms. Butler to a trauma center via a private jet but she died two weeks later. You can read an interview with Amanda here

Ms. Butler explained at the hearing that Carnival sued her family for the $1,200 in medical expenses charged for the negligent medical care.

Kim Ware (testimony here) was a passenger aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph. Although a long time cruiser, she had no idea of the onerous terms, limitations, and disclaimers buried in the cruise ticket when the engine room ignited and the cruise ship lost power and drifted in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. 

There is evidence that things have gotten worse for crime and medical malpractice victims on cruise ships over the years.  Ms. Dishman’s testimony revealed that:

  • There is substantial under-reporting of crimes on cruise ships. For example, in 2011, there were 563 alleged crimes reported by the cruise lines but only 105 publicly disclosed.
  • Few cruise ship crimes are investigated and prosecuted. In 2012, the FBI opened only 18 cases and there were only 4 convictions.
  • The cruise lines do not disclose when a crime involves a minor.  There are sexual predators (both passengers and crew members) on cruise ships. Passengers deserve to know if children have been sexually abused in child daycare centers and in their cabins on prior cruises.
  • The medical care on cruise ships is often substandard. Cruise lines try to isolate themselves when they main or kill passengers through incompetent doctors and bad medical care. Most cruise lines claim that ship doctors are “independent contractors” for whom they are not liable. Few consumers understand this, until it is too late.
  • The cruise ship passenger tickets, drafted by cruise line defense lawyers, are one-sided, unfair and entirely anti-consumer and pro-cruise line.

To address these concerns, Chairman Rockefeller introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act. The proposed law will improve consumer protections by establishing the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the lead federal agency for cruise ship passenger protections. The bill will require the DOT to set standards for providing consumers with a clear language describing the passenger’s rights in the cruise ticket. The bill will also establish a consumer website, provide the DOT the authority to investigate complaints, and create an advisory committee for passenger consumer protection.

The bill will further help consumers by requiring accurate crime data to be published by cruise lines on an internet database. The cruise line will have to reveal whether the victims is a minor. The legislation will strengthen requirements for surveillance cameras public areas and establish requirements for the retention of surveillance videos. The bill will establish a victim advocate to assist the victim, and help the victim understand her rights. 

It’s about time that Congress passed a bill like this. 

This afternoon, Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced the witness list for its Full Committee hearing this Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at 2:45 p.m. titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act (S.1340): Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers.”

Date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Hearing Start Time: 2:45 p.m.
Senator Rockefeller Cruise Hearing Location: 253 Russell Senate Office Building

There are three cruise ship victims who will be testifying Laurie DishmanAmanda Butler and Kimberly Ware.

The hearing will address sexual assaults, unsafe conditions and sub-standard medical care aboard cruise ships. 

The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website.

Click on the website 10 minutes prior to the hearing. The comments by Senator Rockefeller and other senators, the victims testimony, and questions and answers will be streaming live.

I will be attending the hearing on Wednesday in support of my friend and former client Laurie Dishman. 

last year I attended the hearing before Senator Rockefeller with my youngest son, John. (See photo). This year I will be attending with my oldest son, Madison. 

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.

Laurie Dishman - Congresswoman Matsui - Cruise Safety Law 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: 

http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

 

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.

Congresswoman Matsui - Cruise Vessel Security and Safety ActLaurie’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:

Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4

Senate Unanimously Passes Cruise Safety Law

International Cruise Victims Celebrate New Cruise Safety Law in Washington D.C.

Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act – Finally Making Waves   

A Cruise Defense Lawyer’s Summary of the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

 

Consider joining the International Cruise Victims organization.  Make a difference! 

Yesterday evening, the International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization hosted a reception in Washington D.C. to celebrate the passing of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act.

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. 

Consider reading Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4 to learn more about the efforts to pass the new cruise law. 

Congratulations to Congress and the ICV members for their dedication and hard work!

Enjoy the photographs of the reception below:

 

  Congresswoman Doris Matsuit - David Fitzpatrick - Ken Carver

Above: Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA – D), CNN’s David Fitzpatrick, and ICV President Ken Carver.

Below: Ken Carver with former New York Times and LA Times Editor Douglas Franz.

 

Ken Carver - Douglas Franz

Below: Ken Carver and ICV members and supporters.

 

Ken Carver - Laurie Dishman - International Cruise Victims

The success of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009 (HR 3360) can be traced directly to Congresswoman Doris Matsui of Sacramento California.

Congresswoman Matsui’s constituent, Laurie Dishman, called upon her three and one-half years ago after Ms. Dishman was a victim of a crime on a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises. 

We have discussed Ms. Dishman and Congresswoman Matsui in prior blogs – Congress Passes Cruise Crime Law and Congressional All Stars Pass Cruise Crime Law By Vote of 416 to 4

The following video is of Congresswoman’s comments on November 17, 2009 shortly before Congress passed the cruise crime law: 

 

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=SifDVHmfr2w%26hl%3Den_US%26fs%3D1%26

 

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.  

Elijah Cummings - Cruise Safety LawCongress 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 Doris Matsui - Cruise Crime Law 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 John Shedagg - Cruise Crime Lawidentifying 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 John Shadegg (R-AZ) spoke of the "terrible story" of Merrian Carver who disappeared on a Celebrity cruise ship. Although this is any parent’s worst nightmare, Celebrity’s parent company Royal Caribbean tried to cover the disappearance up and then labeled it as a "suicide."  (We have commented on the cruise industry’s nasty habit of claiming all "disappearances" are "suicides" in a prior blog "Suicide" – One of the Cruise Lines’ Favorite Excuses When a Passenger Disappears at Sea)  

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 Ted Poe - Cruise Crime LawCaribbean 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 James Oberstar - Cruise Crime Lawvictims.

On to the Senate!

The next step toward protecting the cruising public is a vote in the Senate.  

Great thanks for the tireless dedication of the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization for supporting the introduction of this cruise safety bill!

Want to get involved in the ICV?  Contact the ICV’s President Ken Carver kcarver17@cox.net

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:   

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=0AsXeOhZU8A%26hl%3Den_US%26fs%3D1%26

Lawyers USA (@LawyersUSA) just published an interesting article entitled  "Federal Cruise Ship Bill Pending in Congress but Plaintiff’s Lawyers Say Measure doesn’t Hold Water."  Written by Sylvia Hsieh, the article discusses what’s new in the specialized field of cruise ship litigation. 

The article features our firm and our clients and friends.  

Cruise Crime

The article first mentions the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2009 which will require peep holes on passenger doors, technology for overboard passengers, mandatory reporting of shipboard crimes, and training for crime scene preservation in light of the large number of shipboard rapes on cruise ships. 

Firm client Laurie Dishman, friend Ken Carver, and the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization are credited for spearheading the legislation.  Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver were victimized by cruise line giant Royal Caribbean in separate cruise incidents. Ms. Dishman was a victim of sexual assault on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship in 2006.  Mr. Carver’s daughter Merrian disappeared in 2004 during a cruise aboard the Mercury, operated by Royal Caribbean’s subsidiary Celebrity Cruises.

In both cases, the cruise line tried to cover the incidents up and treated Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver dreadfully.  In response, Mr. Carver created the ICV which advocates safety for passengers on cruise ships.  Ms. Dishman is on the ICV’s Board of Directors. 

The cruise safety bill should be voted on by the House of Representatives as early as next week. 

The article points out that the proposed legislation falls short in a number of areas.  The bill originally included an amendment to the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), which currently deprives damages to family members of passengers or crew members who die in international waters.  I have written about DOHSA in a previous blog entitled "The Death on the High Seas Act – Screwing American Passengers for 89 Years." 

The cruise industry’s trade organization Cruise Line International Association (@CruiseFacts) killed the amendment after spending millions of its tax-free-money to lobby Congress. The article refers to CLIA lawyer Michael Crye, who admits the cruise industry opposes amending DOHSA "but he could not provide a reason for the opposition."

This is typical of CLIA’s lack of candor.  The cruise industry opposes amending DOHSA because families will finally be fairly compensated when a loved one is killed on a cruise.  Cruise lines simply wish to avoid paying the compensation.

The article quotes Los Angeles attorney Michael Ehline, a good friend of the firm, that foreign flagged cruise ships consider themselves to be countries unto themselves.

"Arbitration" of Crew Member Cases

A hot topic in the world of cruise law is arbitration of claims involving injured crew members, who comprise over 98% of the cruise industry shipboard work force. All cruise lines are now forcing crew members to pursue their claims in arbitration, where the crew members lose the right to a jury trial. Some cruise lines are requiring the arbitration to take place in either the country of the flag of the cruise ship or the crew member’s home country.   

This is pretty much a joke, and some cruise line defense lawyers agree privately.  This is why the article states that "attorneys for Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines did not return calls seeking comment for this article."  

The Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit recently held that, in certain circumstances, cruise lines may compel the crew member to arbitration outside of the U.S.  However, they cannot take away all of the crew member’s rights by trying to apply foreign law.

Injuries and Death of Cruise Passengers During Cruise Sponsored Excursions 

The article also addresses injuries to passengers during excursions.  The law requires cruise lines to exercise reasonable care in selecting shore excursions for its passengers.  Cruise lines are required to properly investigate whether the excursion companies have a good safety record and operate the excursions responsibly.

We have handed a wide variety of "excursion cases," including cases where passengers have been sexually assaulted ashore and even during snorkeling and diving excursions.

CLIA’s lawyer Mr. Crye is quoted as gleefully saying that it is  a “difficult stretch to attempt to hold a cruise line liable for activity that occurs on an excursion operated by a different company in a foreign country.” However, cruise ships collect hundreds of millions of dollars promoting cruise excursions.  Cruise lines face accountability when dangerous excursions kill or seriously injure passengers.

The article also refers to cruise line lawyer Darren Friedman, a partner with Miami’s Maltzman Foreman law firm, which represents numerous cruise lines. His firm defended Royal Caribbean in the high profile cases involving Ms. Dishman and Mr. Carver.

Whenever we see Mr. Friedman or his firm involved in a case, the cruise line is usually guilty as hell. 

In April 2008, I attended the Congressional Victim’s Rights Awards Caucus Ceremony in Washington, D.C.  One of my clients and good friends, Laurie Dishman, was being honored by the Caucus.  Ms. Dishman had been raped on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  The cruise line mistreated her following the shipboard crime. 

Ms. Dishman became a zealous advocate for rape victims after experiencing first-hand how the cruise line treated her and tried to cover the crime up. She received an award from her Congresswoman, the Honorable Doris Matsui of Sacramento California.  The photo to the the left is of Congresswoman Matsui, Ms. Dishman, and her dad Bill Dishman. 

But this article is not about Ms. Dishman, who is one of the most amazing women in the world.  I will write about Ms. Dishman’s trials & tribulations and her resounding victories in later blogs.  This is about another brave young woman, Jamie Leigh Jones.   

At the awards ceremony, Ms. Dishman and I met Ms. Jones.  Ms. Jones was also being honored by her Congressman, the Honorable Ted Poe of the 2nd Congressional District in Texas (Houston, Beaumont).  Congressman Poe has attended some of the hearings in Washington over the years regarding the problem with crimes on cruise ships.  He has been a consistent supporter of crime victims, including rape victims on cruise ships.

Ms. Jones attended the awards ceremony with her fiance, a member of the U.S. Navy, and her family. 

While receiving her award, Ms. Jones briefly explained what happened to her.  While working in Iraq for Halliburton/KBR, a military contractor, her co-employees drugged and then gang raped her. She was also locked in a container and told not to report the crime.

When she filed suit to hold the rapists and Halliburton responsible for the horrific crime, her employer moved to dismiss her lawsuit and send her to what is called "arbitration."  Halliburton had inserted language into her employment agreement which tried to take away her right to a trial by jury.  Halliburton wanted her case to be decided by a single "arbitrator", picked of course by Halliburton (and undoubtedly a man), in a confidential setting.  She also had no right to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.

I was dumbstruck to think that a rape victim could lose all of her legal rights and be subject to a "kangaroo court" where the same company who hired her rapists would also hire the arbitrator who would decide her case.  It seemed like being raped again.  

Halliburton’s lawyers insisted on enforcing the "arbitration" scheme they prepared to rig the legal proceedings in favor of the corporation. The matter went on appeal to the Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit. 

The Court of Appeal recently ruled in favor of Ms. Jones.  The Court held that her claims for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, and false imprisonment are not subject to arbitration.  The Court’s opinion is available online to review.          

The magazine Mother Jones covered Ms. Jones’ story in an article entitled "Court Okays Halliburton Rape Trial."  It is worth a read.

There are corporations in the U.S., including cruise lines, who have modeled themselves on the Halliburton approach of let’s-screw-our-employees-with-an-arbitration-agreement. Like Halliburton’s lawyers, the cruise lines’ lawyers have been plotting to deprive their employees of their rights. Some cruise lines are worse than others.  In subsequent blogs, I will discuss how some particularly bad cruise lines are scheming to strip their injured crew members – including rape victims – of their right to jury trials and U.S. maritime rights which have existed for 200 years.  

The Fifth Circuit’s decision tells employers that you can’t take away rights via arbitration when your employees drug, brutalize, and falsely imprison a young woman.  

The Court saw through Halliburton’s arbitration scheme, and its secret kangaroo court. 

Now Ms. Jones can now seek justice in a court of law in front of a jury of her peers, rather than one of Halliburton’s business partners. 

      

Photo Credits

Photos of Laurie Dishman – International Cruise Victims organization

Photo of Ms. Jamie Leigh Jones – ABC News 

Photos of Ms. Jones and Congressman Ted Poe –  Website of Honorable Ted Poe, 2nd Congressional District of Texas