BY AMY MARTINEZ
March 15, 2006
For Charles Lipcon, business has never been better
Charles Lipcon likes to take a cruise ship vacation every now and then.
“There’s something for everyone,” he says. “When my dad turned 80, we all went on a cruise. My parents could go see a show at night. I could go to the casino. And it’s a great value.”
The fact that Lipcon sues cruise lines for a living doesn’t take away from his enjoyment — he even suspects he gets better treatment once crew members figure out who he is.
After all, Lipcon has been suing cruise lines for more than 30 years on behalf of injured crew members and passengers.
He recalls one cruise during which a crew member, a former client, recognized him in the ship’s dining room.
“I had better service than the captain,” he says, laughing.
Lipcon grew up as the second of two sons born to a Navy psychiatrist. He moved frequently before settling in Miami at age 16. Armed with a law degree from the University of Miami, he went to work in 1971 for lawyer Don Feldman, who turned to him early on with a challenge that would ultimately shape his career: Figure out a way for a longshoreman to sue a Japanese ship owner.
Lipcon recalls that it took him a while, but he figured it out, and soon he went into practice for himself, with his sights set on Miami’s cruise operators.
He says he has always found personal fulfillment helping injured crew members and passengers. Like most trial lawyers, Lipcon works on contingency, meaning he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t win a settlement or jury verdict — at which point he takes a hefty chunk of the payout, up to 40 percent.
Plus, he says, there has always been more than enough work. One of his biggest verdicts was in the 1980s against Sky Cruises. Lipcon represented the family of a crew member aboard the Scandinavian Sky who died from inhaling poisonous gas while repairing a leak of raw sewage. A jury awarded the family $6.1 million.
In the late 1990s, Lipcon helped form the Florida Admiralty Trial Lawyers Association, which is made up of about 20 lawyers who get together in Miami every few months to discuss legal issues.
Lipcon says he has more cases against the cruise lines than he can count, somewhere between 200 and 400. Currently, he’s representing the family of a Wisconsin woman who disappeared from a Carnival cruise ship, one of 15 missing-person cases reported by the industry in the past two years.
Business, he says, has never been better. His law firm, with offices on the 24th floor of Miami’s One Biscayne Tower, has five lawyers and is looking to hire several more.
“More ships mean more passengers, more crew members and more cases,” he says.