For Seventeen Years Jack Hickey Represented Cruise Lines Then He Switched Sides

For the first seventeen years of his career, Jack Hickey of the Hickey Law Firm in Miami, represented cruise lines.

Jack Hickey
Hickey Law Firm
Miami, Florida

For the last twenty-two years, Hickey has been suing the cruise lines he used to represent.

“The cruise lines have a business model where they hire people from developing countries where the unemployment rate is sky high,” Hickey told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “They pay these folks low wages.  The minimum wage laws of the United States do not apply on these foreign registered ships. In fact, no U.S. labor laws apply onboard these ships. The cruise lines require that each crew member work seven days a week and between 12 to 14 hours a day. And the crew member does this for the entire length of their contract which will be for six to ten months at a time. So during those months the crew member is away from home, away from family and friends, away from spouses and significant others.  And working constantly. This can be depressing. There is little safety net.”

Hickey says that about seventy percent of his cases are representing passengers suing cruise lines, about ten percent representing workers and the remaining twenty percent representing people injured in non cruise line cases.

Why did you switch sides?

“One is I wanted to represent individuals who were seriously injured with life changing injuries. Second, I did not enjoy representing corporations any more. Billing by the hour is drudge work. If you win, they say – that’s the way it should have been. And if you lose, you don’t get work, or they are less likely to give you work.”

“Also, I could tell that the cruise lines were going to give the work in house. The trend was for them to hire lawyers as direct employees to handle the litigation in house. I thought that was a bad trend. I thought – I don’t like what I’m doing. And, I’m not going to like it even more. And I’m going to get less work if this trend continues. And everybody told me that I had the personality that should be representing and fighting for people. And that’s what I do.”

Was there a moral component? I don’t like what the cruise lines are doing to their workers and to the environment?

“Much of that had not come to light in the first seventeen years of my career. The environmental disasters had not come to light by the time I made the change. There are many aspects of that. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are convicted criminals. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was convicted in the 1990s because they would have one set of books for the Coast Guard and another set of books for reality. It was across the board. It wasn’t just one captain once. It was a pattern across the board.”

“As for the workers, before I started representing crew members, I’m not sure I fully appreciated what was going on. The labor laws of the United States do not apply to any crew member on board any foreign flag vessel. And all cruise ships in the world, with the exception of some of the river cruises within the United States and the coastal cruises that are coming up now in the United States, all of them are foreign flag. Those include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Norwegian are foreign flag. They are registered in a foreign country.”

“The labor laws of the United States do not apply to these cruise ships. Part of the whole business model of cruise lines, from which they make huge profits, is to hire people from developing countries, whose prospects for jobs in those countries are very low. They are low paying economies like Serbia, Croatia – places affected by the Balkan war in the 1990s. The unemployment rate was approaching 30 percent. They hire from places like that. They pay them pretty minimally. And they work them seven days a week, twelve to fourteen hours a day, without rest. And that’s for the length of their contract. They are onboard the ships from six to ten months at a time.”

“This is the business model of freighters, container ships and cruise lines. And they make a lot of money on that business model.”

Are the workers paid well?

“It depends. They are paid well compared to what they were making before they joined the ship when they were living in Honduras, for example. There are very few jobs in Honduras. I believe it’s the murder capital of the world. The reason people are leaving is because it’s dangerous to live there. There are very few jobs. The economy is horrible. The infrastructure is crumbling. It’s a developing country. The cruise line provides a wage to them. It provides room and board to them when they are on board the ship. The pay is not up to American standards. But it is better than what they can make in Honduras.”

“They have little or no time off until the end of their contract, and then they go home. And you might say –  well, you know, off contract they are completely on vacation. Which is true. They are usually off for a couple of months at a time. And then they come back on board.”

“But it’s a very intense environment on board. I see a lot of injuries as a result of intense and chronic overworking. A lot of back injuries, exhaustion, depression.”

What percentage of your passenger cases are assault cases?

“Twenty percent are sexual assault cases. That gets back to the working conditions of these workers. Usually they are young men. The overwhelming majority of cruise line workers are young men from developing countries. And they are working these long hours, seven days a week. They are away from their family, friends, spouses for six to ten months at a time. And they are on the cruise ships. They are provided medical care, but not mental health care. Things happen. And it’s just horrible. We have some horrendous cases.”

Most of the assault cases are worker on passenger?

“That’s correct. We have one case now filed in federal court in Miami where a male crew member raped a female crew member. And then she was revictimized by the on board doctor, who told her she must come back every day. And every day they asked her questions, not just about how she’s doing, but also questions about the assault. And it was revictimizing her.”

Why were they doing that?

“The cruise lines declare that the doctors are independent contractors – we don’t control them. The fact is that they are oriented by the cruise line, paid by the cruise line, instructed by the cruise line. They know that the doctor is really the first line of defense and the first investigative arm of the cruise line. They start the investigations, whether it is a slip and fall or a rape on board.”

“We know this because when we get the medical records, if there is drinking involved, that’s the first thing the doctor reports. Not person reports pain in the left arm and there is a bone sticking out. The first thing they will note is – person has obviously been drinking. And they go way overboard with exaggerating the intoxication if there is any.”

Do you do cruises?

“No.”

Why not?

“I have done maybe three cruises. I am not here to tell you or the public — don’t take cruises. It can be a good product. But the way it is now, certainly the larger cruise lines — it’s not for me. They have a lot of control over your life. I tell people, if you get sick or injured, the best advice I can give you is to get back to the United States as quickly as possible. Don’t rely on the cruise line to arrange your medical care. They say they will, but they end up not doing it or not doing it well. And third, I say get the travel insurance and make sure it has the air ambulance covered.”

“Cruising involves going to exotic places, which usually means going to a developing country without good medical care.”

There haven’t been that many multi-million dollar verdicts. What is your biggest hit?

“I have had many multi-million dollar settlements – $12 million, $6 million, $9 million. I had a $5 million.”

Are they are public settlements?

“There are not.”

Most cruise line cases are settled with a confidentiality clause?

“Yes. They always settle with a confidentiality clause.”

What do you make of confidentiality clauses?

“It’s a bad practice. There are papers on this and arguments to be made that they should not be enforced, that they are against public policy. But in recent years, nobody has challenged them that I know of.”

“Why do you accept them if you think it’s a bad idea?”

“It’s required. The cruise lines would say that it is good policy because if the settlement was out there, it would scare away business. People would get an exaggerated view of what cruising is all about. It is required. I don’t know if the enforceability of the standard cruise line confidentiality clause has ever been tested.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Jack Hickey, see 33 Corporate Crime Reporter 2(12), Monday January 14, 2019, print edition only.]

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