Bloomberg Legal reports today that according to data which it collected over the last several years, 83 federal personal injury cases were filed against cruise lines in the first three months of 2018. Bloomberg concludes that this figure continues an upward trend over the last two years in which 188 negligence suits were filed against cruise lines in in 2017 and 164 in 2016. 

Bloomberg also states that "personal injury cases against the three biggest cruise lines – Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – accounted for 78 to 87 percent of all federal litigation they faced over the last five years, according to the data which it collected. 

Bloomberg explains that the lawsuits "often involve slip-and-fall claims, but recent complaints also Miami Cruise Linesallege serious illnesses and injuries worsened by shipboard medical decisions."

The article does not explain that according to the terms and conditions in the passenger contracts, most cruise lines require that all legal claims be filed in the cruise line’s home city, such as Miami for Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. These terms have been held to be binding by the United States Supreme Court in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1991).

Cruise lines based outside of Miami typically require that lawsuit be filed in the location of the city or state where their headquarters are based. For example, Holland America Line requires Seattle, Washington and Princess Cruises requires California.  

Cruise lines now require that lawsuits be filed in federal court, which is typically more conservative than state court. 

Although the article suggests that litigation against cruise lines is on the rise compared to the last two years, the fact of the matter is that lawsuits filed against the cruise industry have dropped off substantially compared to 15 years ago.

For the five year period from 2001 to 2006, there was an average of 423 lawsuits filed a year against cruise lines, according to the Miami Herald article "Law on the High Seas," by Amy Martinez (article at bottom). In contrast, for the last two years (2016-2017), there was an average of only 176 according to the data collected by Bloomberg, which is just 40% of the 2001-2006 average (even though over 50% fewer people were cruising fifteen years ago).

The reason for this decline is that most cruise lines no longer permit crew members to file lawsuits in the  U.S., but instead require the filing of international arbitration where judges and juries are not permitted. 

The only lawsuits which are now permitted to be filed against the cruise industry involve passengers who are injured during cruises.

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Photo credit: Marc Averette – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 wikipedia

Lawsuits Against Cruise Lines

Norwegian Breakaway This week, a number of passengers contacted our office after returning from the harrowing end of their ill fated cruise aboard NCL’s Norwegian Breakaway.

News accounts indicate that on January 2, 2018, the Breakaway stopped at its private island, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Videos available online show the weather, initially calm and pleasant, turning rough as the passengers used tenders to return to the cruise ship. This was a foreshadowing of things to come.

By this date, and as early as December 31, 2017, weather forecasters were unanimously predicting that a huge storm would form off the U.S.’s southeast coast and head north later in the week.

But Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) stuck with its itinerary and subjected the passengers to several days of extreme winds and waves as the hurricane-strength storm pounded the cruise ship on January 3rd and 4th. Water leaked into the ship as passengers complained on social media of panic and seasickness with several dozens of frightended passengers sleeping in the ship’s atrium. CBS quoted one passenger as saying that “there were people crying, everyone was throwing up. It was a nightmare. It was so tilted I was shaking.”

Many passengers complained about a lack of communication from the captain.

NCL downplayed the incident which infuriated many of the traumatized passengers.

In one of several statements released by NCL after the Breakaway returned to port in New York, NCL claimed that the cruise ship “encountered stronger than forecasted weather conditions.”

The cruise line’s conduct and lack of transparency are similar to the conduct of Royal Caribbean after the Anthem of the Seas cruised into a major storm which, like the Grayson “bomb cyclone,” was well forecast in advance. The captain of the Anthem claimed that the storm was not accurately forecast, which led Al Roker, the popular television weatherman on the Today Show, to state “Royal Caribbean’s claim that this was not predicted is bullfeathers.

Cruise lines ordinarily have a duty of only “reasonable care” under the circumstances. But in instances of rough weather, cruise lines have a much higher duty of care to the passengers. Some characterize this duty as the “highest duty of care” of the passengers when the ship is expected to encounter rough weather.

Our firm previously represented traumatized passengers on the Anthem of the Seas which Royal Caribbean recklessly sailed through a violent storm in 2016. You can see a video of my interview with a New Jersey television station here.

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January 10, 2018 Update: Passengers Consider Lawsuit After Norwegian Cruise Line Sails Through Winter Storm Grayson (Video).

Image credit: CBS News

NCL Norwegian Breakaway Storm

Jim Walker Cruise Law Sexual AssaultLast night, NBC Nightly News aired part 2 of its investigation into sexual assaults on cruise ships.

NBC interviewed me during the investigation. We have handled over 100 cases of sexual assault; approximately one third of the victims have been children. This is essentially the assault rate of minors that experts testified to during prior Congressional hearings.  

The common comment we hear is that parents need to supervise their children while on cruises. This may be true, but sexual assaults can take place even when the most attentive parents are involved. Children have been assaulted during cruises in shipboard childcare facilities as well as in their cabins by cabin attendants who meet the children and their family members during the cruise.

Another common scenario is older passengers who have access to alcohol and target underage girls during the cruise.

When an assault occurs, the FBI routinely does not follow up with their initial investigation and interview of the victim. Prosecutions of shipboard predators by the U.S. Department of Justice are rare.   

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Photo credit: NBC Nightly News  

On Sunday, July 2, 2017, NBC Nightly News aired the first part of an investigative report into the issue of sexual assaults on cruise ships.

Over the course of three months, NBC News spoke with 10 victims of sexual assaults, or members of their families, and found that cruise ships pose hidden dangers.

“Of the 92 alleged on-board crimes reported by cruise lines in 2016, 62 were sexual assaults. When sexual assaults occur at sea, it may be hard for victims to get justice on land. Some assaults were barely investigated, according to the victims and families who spoke to NBC. Most were never NBC News Cruise Ship Sexual Assaultprosecuted.

And perhaps most troubling, many of the sexual assaults on-board cruise ships involved minors. A congressional report in 2013 found that minors were victims in a third of the assaults.”

NBC interviewed me, as well as another maritime lawyer in Miami Michael Winkleman, during their investigation. You can see a portion of the interview in the video below.

The program highlights the fact that the FBI usually does not conduct a full investigation when women and children are victimized on foreign flagged cruise shhips. Prosecutions by the Department of Justice are even rarer. As a result, the cycle of sexual violence remains a problem on cruises.

The second part of the investigation airs this evening on NBC News.

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Today, Miami lawyers filed suit on behalf of a cruise passenger who sailed aboard the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas on Sunday, February 7th. The Lipcon law firm, based here in Miami, has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Royal Caribbean in Federal Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Anyone who has read this blog in the last two weeks knows how I feel about the cruise in question. There is little doubt that the cruise line acted recklessly by ignoring weather forecasts of hurricane strength winds and 30 foot waves of this Altantic winter storm.  The winds strengthened, as to be expected in a storm like this, to well over 100 MPH. Many passengers experienced Anthem of the Seas Storm Lawsuitterrifying experiences where some passengers were fearful of losing their lives and those of their loved ones on the cruise ship.

The Anthem of the Seas returned to New Jersey with severe damage to its propulsion system, among other damage.

The captain of the Anthem of the Seas said during a talk to the passengers after the storm that he expected waves of only 12 to 15 foot waves.  But weather forecasts indicate that much higher waves, to over 30 feet, were expected. This means that the cruise line did not provide accurate weather reports to the captain or he ignored them. Navigation officers are required to up load “passage plans” pursuant to the the International Safety Management (ISM) codes before they sail. This information will quickly reveal exactly what weather conditions the captain anticipated during the ill-fated cruise in question.

ABC reports that any passenger who was on the ship can be represented in the lawsuit, which covers both passengers who suffered physical injuries and those passengers who are alleging only severe emotional, psychological and emotional stress.

You can read the lawsuit papers here.

At least one other lawsuit was filed last week by a lawyer in Houston, Texas.

Our firm will be representing passengers who sustained physical injuries during the storm.

Cruise lines ordinarily have a duty of only “reasonable care” under the circumstances. But in instances of rough weather, cruise lines have a much higher duty of care toward the passengers. Some characterize this duty as the “highest duty of care” of the passengers when the ship is expected to encounter rough weather.

Can it seriously be argued that Royal Caribbean exercised “high care” when it sailed 4,500 passengers, including the elderly and children, into a winter storm forecast to bash the ship with hurricane strength winds and waves over 30 feet?

Read our last article on the Anthem of the Seas fiasco.

Jim Walker Cruise Law NewsToday, the Cruise Law News Facebook page reached 200,000 "likes."

The majority of our Facebook fans are crew members who use Facebook on a regular basis to communicate with their family and friends. 

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.

We also receive information from cruise passengers when things go wrong on the high seas. 

Thank you very much for reading our page and providing information to us!  Our Facebook page would not be possible without the support of crew members and passengers on cruise ships around the world!

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.

Thanks for reading us! And a special thanks to the many people who have sent us tips, photos and videos. 

This morning Cruise Law News hit a milestone when the 150,000th person "liked" our Facebook page.

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, Elvis 50000000 Fans Can't Be WrongIndonesia, 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.

Cruise Law TwitterIt’s been six years since I joined Twitter. Long ago, I wrote an article about how it came to be that I joined what at the time seemed like little more than a fad. Cruise Law Meets Twitter.

Twitter is now clearly a monster in the world of social media with a value in the billions of dollars. My partner mentioned that she is about to buy Twitter stock. There are rumors that Google may buy it.

I learned that if you are looking for breaking news, Twitter will beat the cable news every time. Regarding cruise news, I will often first hear about a ship fire or an overboard passenger on Twitter, often while the cruise ship is still at sea.

In June 2009, shortly after I joined Twitter, I learned how valuable Twitter is to reporting cruise ships news that the cruise lines try and keep secret. The engine room of Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess caught fire during a Mediterranean cruise near Egypt. Princess initially didn’t release any information to the public. But a passenger, a Pastor from South Carolina, Greg Surratt, tweeted on his Cruise Law TwitterTwitter account @GregSurratt about the fire from his iPhone on the cruise ship. 

Reverend Surratt tweeted that the fire had disabled the cruise ship and a tug had to tow the ship back to port. Frantic families in the U.S. had to rely on Pastor Surratt for information about their loved ones. He even tweeted photos of the fire and the passengers sprawling out on the deck in the dark (right).

When Princess finally posted its typical less-than-forthcoming corporate press statement, no one was paying attention to the cruise line. Everyone was listening to Pastor Surratt tweeting away on the cruise ship in the Mediterranean. 

I first learned of other cruise disasters (Costa Concordia, Carnival Triumph, etc.) on Twitter. 

I have over 12,000 Twitter followers. I tweeted over 15,000 times over the course of 6 years. That’s an average of over 2,500 a year.

What was my first tweet?  I forgot. So I looked it up on an App which tells you. Mine was on March 12, 2009: Princess Crew Member Sexually Assaults Passenger

Are you on Twitter? You should be. Follow the #cruise hashtag. And don’t forget to follow me at @CruiseLaw.    

 

A travel agent in New Jersey who claims he’s a "top seller" for Seabourn Cruise Line and an experienced "maritime lawyer" has been "aiming" for me in his last several blogs. 

Eric Goldring of the Goldring & Goldring law firm and the Goldring travel agency has been obsessed about me lately. He’s recently written three articles claiming that I have filed "frivolous" lawsuits against cruise lines (he identifies none) and that I don’t tell the public about the cases that I have allegedly "lost in court." (I have responded to these bogus charges here).  At the same time, Goldring writes that he has "such a good reputation with (his) clients and the cruise lines!" He concludes: "I am, to self-promote, a knowledgeable, Eric Goldring Travelhonest and fair travel agent."

Now, I have had a strong suspicion, given Mr. Goldring’s bizarre and maniacal stories, that his description about himself is entirely questionable.

One of my colleagues and friends emailed me and said to check on Goldring’s background because something was suspicious about this strange travel agent / lawyer.

So I spent a few minutes (literally a few minutes) and checked up on Mr. Goldring.

The first internet search said "this lawyer has been disciplined by a state licensing authority." The website explained that Goldring was actually sanctioned by two states. He was first "reprimanded" by the ethics department of the New Jersey Bar Association and later "admonished" by the ethics department of the Florida Bar.  

The next search result turned up a website called "No Ethics" operated by the Committee to Expose Dishonest and Incompetent Judges, Attorneys and Public Officials. It summarized a disciplinary complaint and order of sanctions against Mr. Goldring by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics which found him guilty of ethical charges. According to the website, the investigation by the ethics committee concluded that Mr. Goldring: 

  1. Violated (a) court order to discontinue written ex parte communications;
  2. Falsely accused the trial judge of being biased;
  3. Engaged in highly disrespectful conduct toward a trial judge;
  4. Engaged in conduct meant to intimidate a court; and
  5. Engaged in contemptuous conduct toward one or more courts. 

This site states that this was not Mr. Goldring’s first ethical violation. It refers to him as a "repeat offender" and states that he reportedly failed to inform a judge that he had been disqualified in a case because of a "serious conflict of interest." He reportedly was found guilty of deceiving the trial judge. The site reports that the New Jersey Supreme Court punished him with a second reprimand.

The third search revealed that the Florida Bar also filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Goldring arising out of his conduct in New Jersey and further found, as an aggravating factor, that he "refused to acknowledge wrongful conduct."  He was admonished and required to pay the administrative costs.

Okay, now I think I get it. My friend was right. This guy appears to be a loser, sanctioned by ethics referees in both Florida and New Jersey. Is there a reason why he seems to spend most of his time hawking cruise tickets rather than representing clients in court?  

Now I don’t think that revealing his disciplinary records is going to slow someone as reckless as Goldring down. The cheerleaders at Travel Weekly must love someone like him promoting the cruise industry even if he spreads a falsehood or two. I’m also sure that he’s foolish enough to write another insane article, at least until another state bar association reprimands him again for unethical conduct. Maybe then he can concentrate on being a full time CLIA travel agent.

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Photo Credit: Travel Weekly – Goldring attending Travel Weekly function.

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 Eric Goldring Goldring Travelindustry. 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. 

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

January 27 2015 Update"Top" Travel Agent has History of Ethical Violations as Lawyer.

Photo Credit: Eric Goldring / Goldring Travel Facebook