Contributors

Charles R. Lipcon
Charles R. Lipcon is the firm's founding attorney and has been handling injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims for over 40 years. Read More »
Jason R. Margulies
Jason R. Margulies is an experienced maritime lawyer and an active trial attorney handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Ricardo V. Alsina
Ricardo V. Alsina is an active trial attorney, handling personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims. Read More »
Michael A. Winkleman
Mr. Winkleman is an active trial and appellate attorney handling all personal injury, cruise line sexual assault and wrongful death claims, as well as complex business disputes. Read More »

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Happy Holidays from our maritime lawyers at LMAWThe holiday season is in full swing, and our maritime lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. want to make sure you and your loved ones are enjoying a wonderful – and safe – holidays, especially if you decide to go on a cruise vacation or boat outing. Though we’ve been lucky that there has been a push for greater transparency in cruise accident and crime reporting, which has increased the public’s awareness of what really goes on aboard a ship as well as placed greater focus on the industry itself and (hopefully) has led cruise lines to make sure they are abiding by proper safety standards, the fact still remains that tragedies can – and do – continue to occur on the high seas.

If you are planning to head to sea during the holidays, it’s important to understand the dangers that can present themselves while on a cruise or on a pleasure craft. While there are times when freak accidents can occur, many maritime accidents and crimes are the result of operator negligence, and there are things passengers can do to reduce their risk of becoming a victim. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can help ensure you and your loved ones stay as safe as possible while out at sea.

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Future of Cruise Industry in CubaOn Wednesday, December 17th, President Obama announced that the U.S. would resume full diplomacy with Cuba. While many cruise lines, airlines, and hotel chains have shown some excitement at the prospect of being able to help tourists travel to the island nation located only 90 miles south of the U.S., it may be years before U.S. travelers are allowed to visit Cuba.

The opening of diplomatic ties with Cuba means that the U.S. will establish an embassy in Havana. President Obama spoke personally with Raul Castro in order to finalize the decision. Obama explained that the historic change will finally put an end to Cold War era hostilities and help the U.S. write a “new chapter” in its history.

The New York Times reported that the change in U.S. policy came about after 18 months of secret talks that allowed for a prisoner exchange negotiation that involved Pope Francis’s intercession. Fidel Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis both set the stage for the U.S. embargo on Cuba and for the tensions that have been in place for the last 54 years.

But what impact can resuming diplomacy with Cuba have on the U.S. and the maritime industry as a whole? Will this affect consumer cruise ship travel?

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parasailingLiving and working in South Florida, our maritime lawyers have seen an unfortunate number of victims succumb to parasailing accidents. Earlier this year, two teens were seriously injured in a parasailing accident in Panama City Beach, Florida after their parasail tow detached from the vessel. This incident showed the risks associated with the sport and served as a clear reminder that things can take a turn for the worst at any moment. Although parasailing is a popular and fun water activity, sadly and despite the dangers associated with the sport and countless accidents (over 1,200 in the past 30 years), there have not been any official regulations governing the industry or tour operators in Florida or the United States as a whole. That is, until now.

We are excited to announce that finally, safety standards have been set for Florida’s commercial parasailing industry. On October 14, Florida legislators revised maritime safety laws to include parasailing businesses. Now, thanks to Florida Statute 327, all parasailing operators will be required to abide by several safety standards, which will hopefully drastically decrease the number of parasailing accidents in the future and ensure the activities remains both fun and safe.

Statute 327 establishes the following stipulations on the commercial parasailing industry:

  • Requires operators to document weather conditions before commencing a trip.
  • Limits the time and location where parasailing tours can be held.
  • Requires operators to bring an additional observer on the trip to help monitor conditions.
  • Mandates operators to carry liability insurance.
  • Requires operators to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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HandcuffsIn the U.S., sex offenders are required to register with the FBI in order to let government agencies know where they will live. In all U.S. states, neighbors and citizens are warned through websites or other publications when a registered sex offender moves nearby. Megan’s Law requires that the U.S. government provide citizens with notification and information about sex offenders, including personal information about where the sex offender resides. Registered sex offenders are prohibited from being in the presence of minors or coming within a certain distance of a school or day care center.

Yet, when individuals go on a cruise vacation, it is impossible to know whether the person in the cabin next door or the fellow sitting by the pool is a registered sex offender. Cruise lines don’t have the same informational and governmental structure available to them to warn vacationers when a sex offender may be traveling on board. The results of this information gap can sometimes be tragic.

The unfortunate reality is that cruise lines do not perform background checks on passengers and guests and they are not required to warn other passengers when a sex offender is traveling onboard a cruise.

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-As any experienced maritime attorney can tell you, accident prevention and safety should be of paramount concern for boaters. Last month, we wrote about the top ten causes of boating accidents in 2013. Yet, there is another silent killer lurking in the shadows: carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and it can lead to death whether boaters are exposed to it inside or outside their vessels. Even a few breaths of this deadly substance can be fatal. To make matters worse, carbon monoxide poisoning has the same physical symptoms as sea sickness or intoxication, so it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you’re just feeling a little woozy due to choppy waves or because of the deadly effects of carbon monoxide.

Fortunately, most carbon monoxide poisonings are easily preventable. First of all, boaters should be aware of the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. The CDC provides a list of the most common physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. These are:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

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Preventing a Drowning AccidentIf you enjoy the excitement of a boat outing, jet ski ride, or swim, there’s something you need to know. You are at risk for drowning, and you may not even realize it. Drowning accidents don’t just happen in dark or stormy water. A shocking University of Toronto study found that individuals are 70% more likely to drown on nice warm days. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that every day, ten people die as a result of drowning accidents.

Unfortunately, even those who survive, like the 4-year-old boy who nearly drowned in a Disney Cruise Line ship pool, can face long term care or hospitalization. Those participating in any kind of water-related activity often face life-long injuries, including brain damage. That risk is something boaters and those who enjoy water sports and activities are constantly faced with.

Whether heading out on the high seas or sailing across a small channel, drowning is always a risk for boaters and anyone enjoying water-related activities. Boaters might think they can avoid such a tragedy because they are aboard a vessel, but even the most experienced and careful of boaters can run into unexpected rogue waves, sudden weather changes, and even unchartered rocks that can lead to a crash, capsizing, or lead a vessel to turn over and cause passengers to get thrown overboard. If not wearing a life jacket, victims (especially those who sustain injuries) do not have a high chance of survival. Sometimes boating accident victims are able to swim to shore or at least to a safe location, but if sea and weather conditions are unfavorable, if the accident occurred far from land, or if the accident itself led the victim to lose consciousness or become severely hurt, there’s only so much time a victim can stay afloat before drowning.

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Oceania InsigniaIt’s been almost a year since the Carnival Triumph made headlines after a fire erupted in the vessel’s engine room due to a fuel leak, disabling the ship and leaving more than 3,000 people aboard a ship that had meager rations, broken toilets, and sewage dripping down the walls. Fortunately, no one was injured as a result of the accident, but we later came to learn that the fire could have possibly been prevented had Carnival followed recommendations to install spray shields on the Triumph’s fuel hoses. A compliance report revealed that Carnival was aware of the risks involved if it did not install the spray shields, yet failed to do so regardless.

Our maritime lawyers thought the Triumph debacle would have served as a dire reminder to the cruise industry about what can go wrong when safety protocols aren’t followed, but a recent tragedy in St Lucia is leaving us to wonder if the industry will ever truly learn from previous mistakes.

According to news reports, three people were killed in a cruise ship fire accident aboard the luxury liner Oceania Insignia earlier this morning. The fire broke out while the vessel was docked on St. Lucia. The victims included a cruise ship crew member and two contractors who were working aboard the ship. Another crew member who suffered serious injuries is currently receiving treatment at a hospital.  Continue reading →

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For many, there’s nothing more exhilarating than unfurling your mainsail and setting off on the open ocean. That’s why when people envision sailing accidents, they often imagine a sailboat sinking on a shallow reef or a sailboat caught in terrible torrential winds on a dark and stormy night. And surely, every year, recreational and professional sailors experience fatalities from sinking and from storms and groundings. Yet, the actual cause of many sailing accidents may surprise you. Let’s explore the more common accidents that sailors face.

The U.S. Coast Guard explains that 86% of sailing fatalities were the result of drowning and only 26% of these fatalities occurred when sailors were actually sailing. This means that many accidents do not actually take place when a sailor is out on the open ocean. Actually, many sailing fatalities occur when sailboats are docked or anchored or when boats are in the process of being docked, anchored, or unmoored.

To compound the situation, some sailors do not use life jackets in situations where a life jacket could have saved their lives. Why is this the case?

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NorovirusCurious about the pesky virus that has been terrorizing the stomachs of thousands of cruise ship guests for years? Our maritime lawyers have the answers you’ve been waiting for.

It seems that hardly a month goes by before we have to hear about the dreaded Norovirus striking cruise ships once more. A cruise ship facing a Norovirus outbreak is a sad sight indeed. While the virus is seldom deadly, it can ruin a vacation. Guests who are stricken with the bug are usually quarantined in their cabins and left to suffer with diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps alone. Forget sunbathing, swimming, or enjoying your ports of call while sick with Norovirus. You might as well kiss your cruise vacation goodbye.

If you are a frequent cruiser, you may not be a stranger to Norovirus and its effects. You may already know that the virus is highly contagious and is acquired by close contact with an infected person, from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, or from touching a contaminated surface. But did you know that the virus can incapacitate its victims for days to up to a week? And did you know that severe symptoms of the virus result in anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations in a given year?

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Each cruise ship rape lawyer at our firm has, unfortunately, seen many tragic cases where women have been raped while on board a cruise. We fight diligently to seek justice for these women and understand that victims often feel confused and alone. Yet, it’s important to remember that there are a variety of resources available to protect the rights of those who have been victims of rape and sexual assault on the high seas.

​First and foremost, if you’ve been assaulted on a ship, report the crime to ship authorities as soon as possible, but also report the incident to the FBI and Coast Guard on your own and consult with a cruise ship rape lawyer to discuss your rights and steps you should take after the incident to ensure your protection. It is vital for you to take action on your own for several reasons.

For one, though maritime law requires cruise lines to contact authorities and perform their own investigation when notified of a suspected sexual assault or rape, unfortunately, cruise lines don’t always do so. Often, cruise operators fail to report the crime to the FBI and other law enforcement authorities, fail to question alleged suspects, fail to review on board surveillance tapes for any record of the incident, or fail to perform a proper and thorough investigation of the alleged crime scene itself.

By contacting the FBI and Coast Guard on your own to report the crime directly, you can have peace of mind in knowing the incident was documented by the proper officials, who will take decisive action. And by contacting a cruise ship rape lawyer, you will have peace of mind in knowing that an experienced legal professional will start building a case for you immediately.

 

Yet, even when cruise lines do follow proper maritime protocols following an alleged sexual assault or rape, the fact still stands that even the most skilled and experienced of a ship’s security officers often cannot investigate the incident or gather evidence as accurately as an actual law enforcement officer or FBI agent would be able to.

​Also, if the assault occurred while the ship was docked in a foreign country, that nation’s authorities will be responsible for conducting the primary investigation and may not do so thoroughly or quickly enough and may not even be willing to cooperate with U.S. authorities or the victims themselves. This not only creates a window of opportunity for the assailant to get away with the crime, but hinders the victim’s ability to obtain justice.

​Additionally, if you have been raped onboard a cruise ship, do not shower immediately and leave the crime scene intact so that investigators have a chance to collect as much evidence as possible. Make sure that the crime scene is not altered until proper authorities can investigate. Unfortunately, due to international laws, the FBI may not be able to investigate the crime scene until the ship docks at a U.S. port.

You should also seek medical treatment immediately, either on board the ship or at a local hospital if docked at a foreign country. While medical services on a cruise ship are limited, most cruises have at least one doctor on duty that can perform at least a basic health screening and take samples that may be later used to identify the assailant.