Get the Most Out Of Your Legal Representation

Maritime Articles

Having to hire a lawyer to sort out a legal problem or to get the recourse you deserve can be a stressful and confusing experience. Fortunately, looking for the right lawyer can be much easier if you understand what your legal problem requires.

First and foremost, the lawyer you choose must have experience in the type of legal problem you are experiencing. In addition, he or she must be licensed to practice in the location where you can legally file a case (or where you must defend yourself). For example, if you are a seafarer who has a grievance against the cruise ship company you work for, and the company is headquartered in Miami, FL, then you must retain a maritime lawyer who is licensed to practice in the state of Florida.

Once you have decided that you need professional legal help, you should act quickly because legal cases must be filed within a designated time period. Upon hiring a lawyer, he should:

  • Explore with you all your options. 
  • Be honest with you about your chances of winning your case.
  • Provide you an estimate of how long it will take to resolve your case.
  • Give you an estimate for the costs of his services.
  • Explain the financial consequences of losing your case.

For many plaintiffs and defendants, lawyer fees can seem like an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to finding competent yet affordable legal representation. A solution to this problem is the “contingency fee”. This means that you only pay if you win your case. In this type of arrangement, the lawyers collect a percentage of the amount awarded.

Some law firms offer a flat or fixed fee option should your case be relatively simple and straightforward. In general, attorneys charge by the hour, which can vary based on the lawyer’s reputation and skill. Most lawyers will demand a “retainer” which is an advance payment against future charges. Any billable work that exceeds the retainer has to be paid by the client as well. Some countries have a statutory fee, which means that you must pay a set amount as specified by statute or by the regional court.

Sometimes, the lawyer with the right skill set to represent you will not work on contingency or fixed fee and only charges by the hour. Today, many skilled lawyers are willing to make other payment arrangements, such as monthly payments or other types of financing.   

Hiring a lawyer is a very serious affair, but it does not have to be an intimidating or confusing process. No matter which lawyer you choose or what type of attorney you need, the best lawyer to hire is the one who listens, is honest and ethical about the progress of your case, and will give you the attention you deserve.

Fortunately for crew members that are injured or become sick aboard American cruise and cargo ships, the American maritime attorneys that handle these cases work on a percentage.  This means that the crew member does not have to pay his lawyer any money until he receives money compensation for his injuries or sickness from the cruise or cargo company.

How to Choose the Right Kind of Lawyer for Your Legal Needs

Maritime Articles

When a serious legal issue arises, the help of a qualified and experienced lawyer can certainly come in handy. Unfortunately, how to go about choosing the right kind of attorney can be a confusing and time consuming affair. However, the process of obtaining the right kind of legal help can be much easier as long as the seafarer understands what he or she should consider before looking for a lawyer.

In general, the kind of legal problem you have should determine the kind of lawyer you should hire. Sometimes, determining the true nature of your legal issue may require a lawyer to examine the circumstances of your case first. But for many seafarers, the issues can be fairly straightforward.

Consider an attorney’s specialization: Maritime Injury Lawyers are recommended for accidents at sea.

For seafarers, the help of an experienced maritime lawyer is always necessary when it comes to dealing with legal problems. The following legal issues that are best handled by a maritime lawyer are:

Claims for personal injuries and/or sickness

Claims against employers for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, etc.

If you have been involved in a marine casualty or incident

Location: Consider the offending party’s country and state.

Besides the lawyer’s area of expertise, where the lawyer is licensed to practice is another important consideration. Crew members looking to file a claim against their employers must choose maritime attorneys who are licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.

If a personal injury or death claim must be filed, then the seafarer must look for a maritime personal injury attorney that is licensed to practice where the employing company is headquartered.

Seafarers that are looking to defend a criminal charge must retain a criminal attorney that is licensed in the country where the criminal complaint was filed.

Sometimes, a seafarer’s legal problem may not be so cut and dry. In the unfortunate situation where this is the case, it may be best for the seafarer to consult a maritime attorney for free legal advice. The law office of Elias B. Rudnikas offers free legal advice to all crew members, regardless of when, where or how the problem arose.

What Should A Seafarer Consider Before Hiring A Maritime Lawyer?

Maritime Articles

In the age of globalization, cruise ship companies seem to have almost unlimited leverage when it comes to setting the terms for employment, wages, and working conditions. Fortunately, seafarers are not always at the mercy of their employers, as long as they are aware of their rights and what they can do to seek the redress they deserve.

Many crewmembers are not aware of their full rights and protections, and as a result, can be taken advantage of without them even realizing it before it is too late. To help remedy this situation, Attorney Elias B. Rudnikas provides free legal advice to all crew members.

Before hiring a lawyer, it is best to sort out what kind of legal problem you have first. This will determine which country the lawyer should be licensed in and what legal field of expertise he or she must have experience in. For example, a seafarer who is charged with a crime and needs a dedicated defense would need a criminal lawyer that is licensed to practice in the country where the charges were brought up.

Seafarers can write to Attorney Elias B. Rudnikas should they need clarity on the type of legal issue they have and what kind of lawyer they should hire.

Once the decision to hire a maritime lawyer is made, the claimant must act quickly since there is usually a time limit for filing a case. In addition, the lawyer should explain the following:

  • What options you have for solving your problem?
  • What are your chances of winning or getting a settlement?
  • How long your case will take?
  • If you have to pay should you lose the case, and How much?
  • What kind of payment arrangements he or she will accept?


The Hidden Pitfalls Of The Fine Print On Your Cruise Ship Ticket

Information for Passengers

Though cruise vacations are usually a safe and popular choice for travelers, what is less known is how severely restricted their rights are when something bad happens. In the process of buying a cruise ship ticket, the consumer automatically agrees to a boilerplate contract that limits what can be done to seek redress. And to make matters worse, there’s really no shopping around, all cruise companies use the same type of contract with the same restrictions. After all, no cruise ship company attracts their customers by advertising how much more lenient and generous their boilerplate contracts are compared to the competition. If anything, cruises can get away with this because the vast majority of travelers are unaware of what they are signing, and may be operating under a false sense of security. Even now, the public is unaware of how little protection exists for cruise ship passengers under maritime law.

 In the United States, most cruise ship companies are headquartered in Miami and will specify that a consumer can only sue in MiamiCan anything be done? Before that question is answered, it is a good idea to take stock of what the fine print specifies. According to maritime lawyer James M. Walker, the choice-of-forum clause is something every potential cruise passenger should be aware of because “you have to file suit in the location specified on the contract on your cruise ship ticket.” In the United States, most cruise ship companies are headquartered in Miami and will specify that a consumer can only sue in Miami, which can be a huge obstacle for passengers who do not live in Florida. Given that cruise ship vacationers often fly to the ports of departure to board their ship, this clause is especially effective in discouraging lawsuits because of the added cost, time, and travel just to file a case.

But even without the choice-of-forum clause, just buying the cruise ship tickets means that you have already agreed to a list of restrictive terms and conditions that prevent legal remuneration. Added Mr. Walker, “So many people call us and tell us they were treated badly on a cruise and 90 percent of the time we have to tell them that because of the terms and conditions of the contract, they don’t have a case.”

One way to deal with legally bulletproof cruise ship contracts is to buy comprehensive travelers insurance that includes coverage for lost luggage as well as emergency medical care. This can be a pricy alternative, but for those who can afford it and want to reduce risk in their cruise ship experience, it can be an option.

However, the legal invincibility of the cruise ship industry may be waning. In the wake of the highly publicized Concordia disaster and the negative publicity stirred up by the breakdown of the Carnival Triumph, cruise companies have finally responded to public outcry by approving a Passengers Bill of Rights. Fortunately, the newly approved guidelines are more than just public relations window dressing, because it is legally enforceable if the cruise company violates it. Among the guaranteed rights are: access to certified medical emergency attention, emergency backup power should the ship’s generator fail, complimentary overnight accommodations if the passenger is forced to stay overnight at an unscheduled port, the right to leave a docked ship if necessities cannot be accessed on board, and much more.

Though this “Passenger Bill of Rights” is not codified under modern maritime law, it is still enforceable because it is now standard for cruise ship contracts when a traveler buys a ticket. The path to true accountability is a long and winding road. But with the weight of public opinion affecting the bottom line, cruise companies will continue to do what is necessary to keep their customers, even if it means giving up their legal invulnerability.

Maritime Law: Cruise Ships and Assistance for Distressed Boaters

Maritime Articles

Stories of distressed boaters getting much needed assistance from cruise ships are fairly commonplace, especially in South Florida. It’s only when a cruise ship refuses or fails to provide any help that the incident is considered out of the ordinary.  

When a Princess Cruise ship reportedly failed to help three Panamanian boaters, it shocked many cruise ship industry insiders and maritime law professionals. According to maritime law and tradition, ships have a legal and moral obligation to help distressed seafarers.

Ship crew have a legal and moral obligation to help distressed seafarers.

The duty to respond to persons in need of assistance at sea is based on the moral obligation to save human life,” stated South Miami maritime lawyer James Walker. He also noted that the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates the shipping industry, requires mariners to help boaters in trouble.

The IMO explicitly states this requirement in its International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea: “A master of a ship at sea, which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance.

To comply with this law, cruise ship officers can receive essential training at the STAR Center in Dania Beach. The program includes information on how to assist distressed vessels; how to establish and maintain effective communication; how to handle ship emergencies; and how to enhance team and crew cohesion.

Every ship’s crew should have established protocol for helping distressed boaters

It should be standard operating procedure for every ship to have a set of “standing orders”, which is an established protocol for dealing with distressed boaters. The ship’s watch keeping officers should be well trained in recognizing distress signals out at sea, such as flares, hands waving, or urgent radio messages.

The International Code of Signals manual contains all recognized distress signals, which must be available on the bridge of every active vessel. If the watch officer spots a distressed vessel, it is his or her responsibility to inform the captain. Afterwards, steps must be taken to offer help to the distressed ship, as well as its crew and passengers.

It is still unclear as to why the captain of the Princess Cruise failed to help the troubled Panamanian fishermen. After all, the ship’s deck officers received the required bridge, emergency response, and vessel assistance training at the Center for Simulator Maritime Training in The Netherlands.

Three American passengers on the Princess claimed that the ship’s captain did nothing to help the fishermen after a crew member was informed of their plight. Two of the fishermen died as a result, leaving only one survivor who was rescued after 28 days at sea. The three men were seen waving frantically for help as the cruise ship sailed from Ecuador to Costa Rica on March 10.

The Princess, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., released an official statement saying it was “very sorry for the tragic loss of life.” The company conducted its own internal review, claiming that it could be a “case of unfortunate miscommunication,” since the ship’s captain was never notified of the fishermen’s signals for help. This conflicts with recorded passenger accounts of the incident, who claim that the crew knew about the distressed fishermen and did nothing.

Since the ship is registered in Bermuda, it is the responsibility of Bermudan authorities to investigate the incident. It is still unclear if the results of the investigation will be revealed to the public.

The failure to help is especially surprising, since other Princess cruise ships have assisted in more than 30 at-sea rescues in the last ten years. “The cruise industry has an incredibly good record overall of rendering assistance at sea,” declared Brad Schoenwald, an official at the U.S. Coast Guard Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise in Fort Lauderdale.

Possible penalties for the incident under Bermuda law include imprisonment for the ship’s captain, and a fine levied against him and his employer. The fishermen’s families will also most likely file a civil suit against the cruise company and the captain in the U.S. or in Panama.

Cruise Passengers Have Fewer Consumer Rights than Airline Travelers

Information for Passengers

Cruise ship passengers have more limited compensation rights and consumer protections than air travelers – as the Carnival Triumph passengers found to their dismay.

Cruise ship regulations and cruise industry loopholes

Cruise ship passengers contemplates cruise lawsuitThe cruising industry is regulated by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which focuses on safety rather than consumer issues. The FMC is not as strict as the US Department of Transportation, which oversees the airline industry and enforces consumer-friendly regulations. In addition, many cruise lines sail under foreign flags such as the Bahamas, Panama, Liberia, or Honduras, which enables major cruise operators like Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean to avoid paying US federal taxes and exempts them from following regulations and standards established by the US government.

These loopholes mean that cruise ships passengers can experience on-board fires, power outages, and other maritime hazards, yet they have limited legal recourse for their pain and suffering.

“Each of these issues requires urgent attention from both the industry and regulators,” said Ross Klein, a researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. “Because most [cruise ship] accidents are avoidable – related either to human error or to allowing ships out of port with unresolved mechanical issues – there is a need for much greater oversight of the industry and stricter enforcement of safety standards.”

Significant cruise ship accidents

According to Klein’s research, there have been at least 100 recorded cruise ship incidents worldwide in which cruise ships have gone adrift or sustained power outages since 2000. In addition, there have been 79 onboard fires and 73 collisions recorded for cruise ships since 1990.

In defense of the industry, The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) insists that its members “are subject to a very comprehensive body of laws, regulations and policies established at the national and international levels.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) also oversees the cruise industry and establishes global standards that all vessels are required to adhere to. However, its regulations specify cruise safety standards rather than passenger rights and comfort.

Notable past cruise ship incidents include: a fire on the Azamara Quest near the coast of Malaysia; the Costa Concordia accident last year; and a power outage on the Allegra, which stranded 1,000 passengers without power or water for one week. In response, CLIA adopted 10 new regulations to ensure cruise ship passenger safety, such as the number of available life jackets and revamped emergency procedures.

CLIA released an official statement regarding the new policies, stating: “Cruising is one of the safest forms of leisure transportation, thanks to our industry-wide commitment to safety, strict regulations and vigorous enforcement mechanisms. Yet the rarity of cruise ship accidents does not mitigate the pain and loss we feel if they do occur.”

Cruise passengers may have limited consumer rights and protections

However, the new regulations have done nothing to spell out and formalize consumer rights and protections for cruise passengers. Critics also charge that the new policies do nothing to mitigate lax global oversight, even when the ships dock at US ports and submit to US Coast Guard inspections.

“There is not one universal overlord” that oversees the vessels, explained Robert Jarvis, professor of maritime law at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “So there is a race to the bottom for cruise lines looking for which country is the most lax and the most inexpensive. And there are countries that say to ship owners, ‘If you come here and pay an annual fee, we will leave you alone.’ “

Would-be cruise passengers need to carefully read the contract on their ticket, so they can understand what they are entitled to if anything were to happen. Standard practice usually involves full or partial refunds, or credits toward a future cruise. In response to what the 3,143 Carnival Triumph passengers endured, Carnival Cruise Lines offered $500 on top of a full refund for their ticket.

According to Carnival Cruise Lines, an engine room fire causes the power outage. The US National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cruise ship incident, though any impact on cruise regulations remains to be seen.

Cruise lawsuit immunity

Cruise ships are largely immune to lawsuits, since the standard of proof required of the plaintiffs are very difficult to fulfill. For a cruise ship lawsuit to have any traction, it must be proven that the cruise company knew that the vessel was not seaworthy, which is very hard to establish.

Though cruise vacations are often one of the safest travel options around, travelers need to be aware of what their rights are in case the unthinkable happens. Unfortunately, the cruise industry continues to operate in a type of legal purgatory, which means that passengers won’t be able to expect substantial changes in consumer protection anytime soon.

If you have suffered from a cruise ship accident, please contact our law office for a free evaluation. Attorney Elias Rudnikas is a maritime lawyer that provides law services free of charge until he wins each case.