By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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In a counterclaim, Norwegian has charged Huggett and his client with conspiring to commit fraud, alleging that Castrillo agreed to settle with Norwegian just so Huggett could accuse the company of stealing his client. Castrillo, Norwegian claims, "knowingly and willfully" entered into the settlement and "entered into a plan and conspiracy to fraudulently induce [Norwegian] to settle its case."
Despite the fact that they ceaselessly sue the shipping companies, Miami's maritime lawyers say the companies are cleaning up their act. And the attorneys think they deserve some of the credit. "If I see something I don't like, I'll sue them to stop them from doing it again," says Charles Lipcon. Adds William Huggett: "Carnival used to be the worst of the lot insofar as working conditions, but they gradually got better largely because Lipcon and I sued them a lot."
Cruise line executives, in turn, have few nice words to say about their nemeses, favoring instead the view that the lawyers are glorified vultures feeding off the seafarers' injuries. "They frequently like to portray themselves as the watchdog for these people, and how much do they get paid for being a watchdog?" asks Carnival's Tim Gallagher. "It seems like pretty good pay for a watchdog. Are they doing this out of social consciousness or are they making millions of dollars doing this kind of thing? It's so easy for a crew member to sue you, even if it's not your fault. And they will probably get something for it."
Says another cruise line executive who requested anonymity: "Some of these cases get to be absurd costwise, even in cases where there is no liability. There are claims that are absolutely ridiculous."
Higher-ups for several cruise companies also charge attorneys with conducting unethical practices themselves. Contrary to the rules that govern attorneys, the cruise company officials allege, some lawyers or their hired agents solicit clients, scouring hospitals and hotels around Miami in search of injured crew members. They also say some attorneys distribute their cards on the docks and pay crew members to tell them when someone gets injured. And they employ tactics of coercion and deception to win clients. Says one executive: "Many crew members have been scared into hiring an attorney."
Not every crew member is an impressionable, unwitting player in this often protracted tug-of-war. Certainly not Julian Bravo, who in the past ten months has been anything but passive. He has hired not one, but two lawyers. And fired them both. He has requested a second, third, fourth, and fifteenth opinion about his condition, consulting doctors from Mount Sinai Medical Center to the University of Miami to the National Parkinson Foundation. And he has written letters to the Brazilian Consulate in Miami and to the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
"I still feel pain," he says. "The pain never goes away. I feel dizziness, I can't run, can't do quick movements. I'm not able to stay more than two hours standing up. This," he says, shaking the cane that accompanies him everywhere, "it is to prevent me from falling down."
Amid the haze from a depleting supply of Marlboro Lights, Bravo describes in relentless stream-of-consciousness his struggle to get well. In a single breath, he plays the role of two doctors, an attorney, an immigration authority, the entire Carnival claims office, and himself. Furious, he tells how a battery of X-rays, blood tests, and magnetic resonance imaging and bone scans have turned up nothing except muscular trauma, how two psychiatrists suggested he seek some psychiatric counseling, a recommendation he has dismissed out of hand.
Bravo's former lawyer, Charles Lipcon, says he has no quarrel with the medical treatment Carnival provided when he represented the Brazilian. But the seaman believes his lawyers have been in the same bed with the cruise line executives and the medical professionals all along. This vast conspiracy theory is laid out in a detailed, 70-page, handwritten treatise, which Bravo calls his "dossier."
"It seems now that I'm not going to be cured, so I'm going to go to Europe," says Bravo forlornly, adding that he now plans to approach Carnival to settle the issue. "Ten months in a hotel with only pain medicine? I'll drop everything, any lawsuit. I just want to get out of this place."
Beneath the frustration and the paranoia, beyond the conspiracy theories and the stubbornness (he refused to be photographed for this story), Bravo has reduced his situation to its starkest components. "In this world of lawyers and the cruise ships, everything's made of money," he says. "They put money ahead of human values. They don't care what the patient's feeling." He extracts one more cigarette from the box. "The lawyers want business. The company wants business."
Bravo strikes a match, lights up, and takes a powerful drag, the red coal chugging quickly toward his lips. "Money? In this circumstance, money is dirty. I can't enjoy life properly. I can't work properly. I can't walk properly. What difference is that money going to mean for me? I'll leave them to do what they want. Just treat me and send me back. They can stick their money in their ass if they like. But my health. They must give my health back.