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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Life saver Last time, we talked about how cruise lines have been hiding a grim reality from passengers for many years – the fact that cruise ships are not as safe as travelers might imagine. It took major accidents like the Costa Concordia and Carnival Triumph incidents to really shed some light on what was really happening within the cruise industry. Little by little, these accidents showed the world that cruise lines don’t necessarily have the strictest maritime safety laws in place, nor do they always abide by the highest standards of safety. The accidents also revealed that there are many more tragedies that were not being reported to the public. Though the efforts of some legislators, like Sen. John Rockefeller, have made drastic improvements to the cruise industry as far as safety goes, there is still a lot that needs to be done. And even though crime and accident reporting is much more transparent these days, it’s still not 100 percent accurate.

Why is that? Well, for one, because many accidents and crimes that occur on board a cruise ship are the result of negligence on the cruise operator’s part, and this means that the cruise line may be held liable if someone was hurt or killed. If a cruise line is held liable, then they will most likely have to pay a settlement to the victim or their surviving loved ones, and thus, lose money. Add to that the negative press the cruise line would receive from the matter itself and the public’s realization that the cruise company may not be as safe as they thought, and you’ve got even more revenue loss in the long run.

But then why don’t cruise lines just invest money to improve safety before an accident or crime occurs in the first place? Again, the answer is money. Because of the loopholes that are in place for cruise lines (i.e. registering ships in foreign ports, including fine print in cruise ticket contracts that allows cruise lines to avoid liability in the event of an accident, etc.), the cruise lines have a pretty big safety net and they know this well.

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Life saver In our last blog installments, our maritime attorney Michael Winkleman talked about some of the things cruise lines don’t want you to know about the hidden fees associated with a cruise vacation cancellation and how there’s no guarantee the itinerary you think you’ll be enjoying will be what you actually experience. Today, we’ll talk about what cruise lines don’t want you to know about safety on board a ship.

Cruise ship safety is a hot commodity these days. Or at least that’s what it appears to be, since cruise lines aren’t doing much to improve on board safety for passengers. Though it seems as though there’s a new accident or crime on the high seas each week, cruise lines aren’t doing much about it. Why is that?

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to provide the most reasonably safe shipboard environment possible for their guests as well as their crew. Given this fact, one would think that every ship would be equipped with the most advanced security equipment, best trained security guards, accident-proof engine systems and what not. On any given day, over 3,000 people might be sailing on a ship and of course, the last thing those people are thinking is that something is going to go wrong. No one embarks on a cruise ship thinking the worst will happen. They are grappling with having to choose between a margarita or beer, spa treatment or shore excursion. And with as high as some cruise vacations come, they are definitely not thinking that safety will not be included in the cruise ticket price.

Sadly, the truth is that cruise vacations are not as safe as travelers might imagine. In fact, there are numerous opportunities for mishaps to occur, whether they be related to a ship’s mechanical failure, a crash or a crime on board the ship. Cruise lines want their passengers to think they are safe. After all, who would want to sail out into the middle of the ocean if they are at risk for harm?

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July 4th is often an exciting time for family and friends to get together to enjoy good times and fireworks. The view from onboard a boat can be quite spectacular, even when a person just wants to star gaze. But as your boating accident lawyer knows, even in the midst of all the beauty in the sky, tragedy can occur. That appears to have been the case this past 4th of July.

According to a recent news article, the 4th of July ended tragically for a number of family members and friends. The story noted that a 32-foot Contender that was carrying one young man’s twin sister and her friends ended up T-boning a 36-foot Carrera that held a family of eight. The crash caused the passengers in the Carrera to fall out and even knocked some individuals unconscious. Ultimately, a third boat was also caught up in the collision. Four people died as a result of the crash and three individuals were critically hurt. Accident investigators noted that the accident ranked as one of the deadliest recreational boating accidents in South Florida, and they commented that they have added alcohol as a potential contributing factor in the accident.

The events that took place that day were devastating for so many families. But the incident stands as yet another reminder of the need for boating safety and the importance for individuals to know the rules of the water.

The Boating Rules in Florida

A well-versed boating accident lawyer is aware that Florida has a number of laws and rules with respect to boating. For instance, individuals should be aware of who is permitted to operate a vessel in the state. If a vessel (including personal watercrafts) is powered by a motor that is 10 horsepower or higher, any individual born on or after January 1 of 1988 who operates the vessel must have taken and completed a boater education class that has been approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (or they must have passed an equivalency test).

Those who are required to complete the class or take the test must carry a picture identification card and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued boating safety education ID card. As of October 1, 2011, the rules also allow for an individual to carry his or her course completion certificate that shows successful course completion in the alternative, along with a photo ID. Additionally, no person under age 14 is allowed to operate any personal watercraft in Florida on any occasion, even if he or she has a boating safety education ID card, and no one under 18 years of age will be allowed to rent or lease a personal watercraft.

Boaters should also note that it is illegal to operate a vessel at an improper speed that is greater than the posted speed. Additionally, it is illegal to operate vessels in a careless manner such that the operator fails to prevent the endangerment of one’s life, limbs or property. Also, boaters are not permitted to operate vessels beyond the maximum horsepower or load, nor are they permitted to allow individuals to ride on a raised deck, bow or gunwale of a vessel where there is a chance that the person may fall overboard.

Perhaps most importantly, the same or similar rules apply to boating as they do to vehicles as it relates to drinking alcohol. Put simply, you cannot and should drink and operate a vessel. Alcohol is the greatest danger at sea, and despite the fact that drinking and boating is very common, there are far fewer Boating under the influence arrests as there are Driving under the influence.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a boating accident, contact a skilled boating accident lawyer at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. right away.

Cancellation of tripOur maritime lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have been talking a lot lately about cruise accidents and crimes, as well as the overall lack of safety on ships. Last week’s Senate Hearing held by Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller highlighted the continuing need for tighter regulation of the cruise industry in general, in order to reduce the likelihood that those on board will be injured or the victim of a crime.

In our last blog series, our maritime attorney Jason Margulies discussed how cruise lines have long been able to get away with violating safety policies due to several reasons, including the fact that most ships are registered in foreign ports, which allows them to avoid the penalties they would in the U.S. when a safety violation has occurred. Accidents such as the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy and the Carnival Triumph fire have brought to light the fact that cruise lines have been keeping critical information from guests, including the real number of accidents and crimes that transpire, because of these loopholes.

But aside from concerns over safety and accurate crime and accident reporting, there’s a lot more that cruise lines keep from passengers that anyone might imagine. This blog series will explore some of these “secrets at sea” in detail, starting with cancellation policies. Continue reading →

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JayRockefellerAs we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of our blog series, cruise ship accidents have seemed to occur with greater frequency lately, but it’s not necessarily because a greater number of accidents are happening. It only appears that way because cruise ship accident and crime reporting has become much more transparent in recent times – something that was propagated by the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy in 2012.

When the Concordia accident brought to light that cruise lines were not disclosing full information on accidents, were not doing everything within their power to protect passengers from harm, and were severely lacking in safety operations in general, it became obvious to many, including each maritime attorney at our firm and Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller, that cruise lines were out to protect themselves above all else.

Sen. Rockefeller has been extremely vital in the fight for improved safety within the cruise industry. Just this past Wednesday, he called a second hearing (the first having been held last year) on cruise ship safety to discuss the fact that cruise lines are not doing their part to drastically reduce accidents and crimes on board ships. Last year, he introduced a legislation called the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which would require cruise companies to accurately disclose accident and crime reports as well as to simplify the language in passenger ticket contracts, which, as it stands, is extremely difficult to understand. In the very, very fine print, a passenger ticket contract allows cruise lines to avoid liability for many incidents that occur on ships, the vast majority of which result from the cruise line’s own negligence.

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Increase in cruise ship accident rateIn Part 1 of our three-part blog series, we discussed a pressing matter that’s been on the minds of several people lately, including each admiralty attorney at our firm – cruise ship accidents. Though the cruise industry has never been entirely free of accidents, as no industry can ever truly be, it seems to many that the number of accidents involving cruise ships is increasing at an alarming rate. Nearly every week, we hear about a cruise ship that experienced mechanical issues or crashed or had a passenger suffer an injury, or even a combination of all the above. And while the accident rate itself is frightening, perhaps the most alarming aspect of it all is that it feels as though these accidents just started happening out of nowhere.

Doesn’t it feel as though just a few years ago, cruise ships were just plain fun? No one ever seemed worried that the ship they were about to sail on could get stuck in port or disabled by a fire. It would appear – at first glance – that cruise ship accidents just magically started happening without rhyme or reason and wouldn’t stop. But, like we said, this is what we see at first glance.

In a way, the frequency with which cruise ship accidents have been occurring has increased, but not as much as one might think. The increase is largely due to the fact that newer ships are much larger than they used to be and can carry many more passengers. A couple of years ago, a ship was only able to carry around 1,000 or so passengers. Now, some ships can carry well over 4,000 people.

It honestly all boils down to numbers. If there are more passengers on a ship, the likelihood that someone will get injured is obviously higher. Additionally, the fact that the ships are much larger means that it’s not as easy to keep an eye over everyone onboard and it’s not as easy to monitor equipment. If you have a ship that’s only about 700 feet in length versus one that’s over 1,100, naturally it will be harder to find mechanical glitches and it will take a lot longer to do so. Unfortunately, ships only have so much time in port between sailings during which crew members can inspect for issues (usually less than three hours). Though the fact remains that inspections are rushed (another issue entirely), and sometimes crew members purposefully overlook certain details, it cannot be denied that larger ships will naturally be more prone to malfunctions based on the sheer fact that there’s just much more equipment to begin with.

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Increase in cruise ship accident rateThese days, it’s hard to turn on the TV or read a newspaper without hearing about a tragic accident involving a cruise ship. Whether it’s a mechanical issue or Norovirus outbreak, cruise lines seem to be constantly plagued with issues related to maritime safety – or as it would appear, a lack thereof.  As any maritime attorney at our firm can tell you, the cruise industry has never been 100 percent accident free, but it’s hard to ignore the surge of incidents that have been occurring in recent years.

But what exactly is contributing to all these accidents at sea? One would think that with all the technological advances that have been made in the past few decades, accidents involving cruise ships would be few and far between. At the very least, if an accident were to occur, it should be something so minor that guests on board the vessel shouldn’t even notice.

Maybe we aren’t asking the right question. Perhaps it’s not so much the fact that the cruise ship accident rate is increasing, but instead, the fact that the public is hearing about incidents a lot more these days.

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Laurie Dishman Cruise Ship Safety Senate HearingIn Part 1 of our blog, we discussed how sexual assaults are an ongoing problem within the cruise industry and how cruise lines have continuously failed to provide accurate reporting of the numbers and the facts surrounding these crime and have also failed to improve ship board safety aimed at addressing it, despite the fact that they have a responsibility under maritime law to the health and welfare of their passengers and crew. As a result, Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller recently held his second hearing to discuss the lack of passenger safety.

Sen. Rockefeller has continuously tried to improve the safety of passengers on cruise ships yet, cruise lines have been very slow to respond to his concerns. Last year, he introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act and held a Senate Committee hearing to discuss the lack of safety within the industry. The hearing, titled, “Cruise Industry Oversight: Recent Incidents Show Need for Stronger Focus on Consumer Protection,” was aired publicly on the senate website and showed just how large of a discrepancy there was between the crimes cruise lines report and the actual number of incidents that take place.

Shortly after the hearing, four of the world’s major cruise lines, “Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corporation, Disney Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines, “voluntarily” published crime reports, which included statistics on the number of passengers who reported sexual crimes dating back to 2010. We say “voluntarily” in quotation marks because the disclosure was mostly a response to the Senator’s bill, which mandates reporting compliance and also standardizes the way reports are revealed to the public.

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Senator John Rockefeller Cruise Ship Safety HearingSexual assault is an issue that has plagued the cruise industry for several years. Unfortunately, as each maritime lawyer at our firm knows all too well, not very many people are aware of this.  For years, the cruise industry has been allowed and worked very hard to hide the number of crimes that occur on board, as a result only minimal about this has gotten out to the public.

Though maritime law requires crimes to be reported to the FBI, Coast Guard and other appropriate law enforcement agencies, the fact that most cruise ships are registered in foreign countries and fly foreign flags results in a kind of loophole – one that has allowed the cruise lines to get away with not reporting these crimes. By flying these “flags of convenience”, cruise lines until recently, had been allowed by the U. S. government to not have to report these crimes.

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Life saver In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, we discussed how the continued lack of safety within the cruise industry has prompted Senator John “Jay” Rockefeller to host several Senate Committee hearings on the issue. Despite the advances in surveillance and accident detection technology and the number of incidents that have occurred within the cruise industry, including injuries, assaults, thefts, and death, the cruise industry doesn’t seem to be taking the necessary procedures to ensure optimal safety for passengers on board. The continued increase in cruise crime and accident statistics has led the senator to propose another hearing to discuss these issues, which will hopefully be the turning point for improved cruise safety policies and procedures.

The new hearing, titled “The Cruise Passenger Protection Act: Improving Consumer Protections for Cruise Passengers,” is scheduled for July 23, 2014 at 2:30 PM and will be broadcasted live to the public via the Senate Committee’s website.

Much like each admiralty attorney at our firm, Sen. Rockefeller recognizes that the lack of industry-wide safety onboard ships has contributed to the escalating number of incidents. A problem that we’ve seen time and time against is that safety seems to be an afterthought for the cruise industry. It usually takes a serious accident or crime to occur – followed by heavy media coverage – to get cruise operators to discuss safety concerns and make promises to improve safety policies or even address the concerns of the public or maritime safety organizations.

Unfortunately, cruise ship safety isn’t one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” matters. Cruise lines shouldn’t wait until someone is seriously injured, assaulted, robbed, or killed in order to make improvements to their safety policies. If there is even the slightest chance that an accident or crime may occur due to a particular cruise ship’s maintenance conditions or the line’s overall safety policies, the issue should be addressed immediately. Sadly, this has not been the case, and hopefully, next week’s hearing will touch upon this critical concern.

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