Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walker & O'Neill - Bad Attorney Conduct Again - Turning the Holland America Alaska Flightseeing Tragedy Into Hyperbole and Hype


The recent flightseeing accident killing eight people on an excursion from the Holland America Westerdam was a real tragedy.

What attorney Jim Walker, of Walker & O'Neill, the Florida based law firm has done is, in my opinion, nothing short of disgusting.  I perceive it as yet another attempt by him to self-promote by exploiting the tragedies of others and then exacerbating that act through the use of hyperbole and wildly inaccurate allegations.

While I see Attorney Walker as a truly troubled individual and most certainly an attorney I would never use or endorse using, the more important thing to do is get the facts right and let Walker play in his sandbox of seeming dishonesty and disillusionment.

Walker has repeatedly, and clearly knowing of its falsity, asserted that Holland America (and, it is inferred, other cruise lines) put great pressure on their passengers to take excursions such as the flight seeing trip involved here when there are poor conditions.  (Let's keep in mind that the cause of the accident has not yet been determined, so jumping to the conclusion that it was singularly poor weather...when it was the only flightseeing trip that ended in tragedy that day...is troublesome; especially when it could have been pilot error or a mechanical failure, etc. To me such a claim at this point is irresponsible.)

So what does Walker  base his "pressure" theory on?  He claims it is that there is a requirement that the passenger cancel the excursion at least three days prior in order to avoid losing the full amount of the excursion cost.  That it.  Nothing else.

Wait a second!  Let's get some perspective here:

  • Did Holland America pressure anyone to purchase that excursion?  No.
  • Did Holland America fail to clearly disclose the three day cancellation period?  No.
  • Did Holland America fail to clearly disclose that weather may affect the excursion?  No.
  • Does Holland American cancel excursions if the operators advise it may be unsafe?  Yes.

As one person claiming to be a Holland America Westerdam Officer posted on Walker's website...only to be personally attacked by Walker (as he has done to me and many others)...wrote:
I am currently an Officer serving on the Westerdam, as I was last week during the terrible accident last week. 
Your article insinuates we forced, or 'exerted pressure' to make those tours fly last week
That is DEEPLY offensive to us the crew onboard that are still distraught over the events of last week (and yes, the Company has put a councillor onboard this week for the crew) 
Either post evidence we, as a Comapany, force or pressure tours to override their safety protocols to 'maximize profits' or retract your deeply hurtful insinuations.
We sell tours provided by local companies and orgnisations. Before doing buisness with them we do an in depth review of their policies, procedures and safety history. We are not in the buisness of flying or maintaining planes, and so leave the judgment of whether a tour is safe or not with with the experts.. the tour providor. As an obvious note, the pilot himself is in the plane, so would be very unlikely to fly if he thought it was unsafe and so risk his life.
As it turned out, some flights were cancelled last week, and the persons on those tours got a full refund from HAL we do not, and would not, EVER force a tour company to override their safety protocols for profit, and for you to insinuate we do and that to be the underlying cause of last week's tragedy is an unacceptable offense to us, the crew of the Westerdam...
Walker's response speaks for itself:
Deeply Offended:"
What's your name?
I'm sure that you will be deposed under oath and will be able to tell your tale at an appropriate time...I see that you continue to refuse to identify yourself (your email does not include you full name). This is a typical ploy of a cruise coward - full of personal insults but lacking the backbone to identify yourself.
...You have chosen to be the first cruise line representative to feel compelled to make a written statement in public. You will be eventually identified in the legal process. You will be subpoenaed for a deposition, as much as you now try to distance your employer from your statements.
The cruise line excursion policies and procedures remain dangerous nothwithstanding your anonymous ad hominem attacks.
You can read it all here.

Ad hominem attacks are, by the way, ones attacking a person rather than the issue.  It is clear that Walker is the one engaged in that disingenuous practice as well as overtly threatening the individual for nothing other than stating obvious facts.  (By the way, that person was identified - Walker just wanted more - and the chance of him ever being deposed is between slim and none. A lot of bluster and something else that begins with "b".)  

Also, if one is being honest, there is another factor:  Personal responsibility.  If those that perished believed it was unsafe they could have decided the money wasn't worth it and not taken the trip.  It was an expensive tour, but only a few hundred dollars.  They could have asked the operator questions, challenged him, and had more information that Holland America could have had.  Maybe they did. (We, of course, don't know what they knew or what were thinking and may have been very enthusiastic to go regardless of the weather and being fully informed...to the extent a lay person could be fully informed.)

Did Holland America do anything to encourage those that perished to give up their own personal responsibility?  Clearly not.  And if one's personal responsibility is lost for a few hundred dollars that raises questions that we need not delve into now.

Speaking of "now", let's now look just a little bit deeper.  Walker also fails to mention or discuss that passengers regularly cancel excursions without any penalty for such things as simple as second thoughts, a change in plans, hangovers, and even spending too much money on that hand-carved totem pole souvenir (that will eventually wind up in a garage sale for 5% of what was paid for it)...none of which has anything to do with the cruise line.  Clearly that is Holland America eliminating certain pressures!  

And those pressures are eliminated even though those cancellations come at a cost to both the tour operators and the cruise lines in the way of lost revenue...if there is not sufficient time to find others to book those excursions.  We all know there are wait lists and last minutes "Hey, let's do something" examples throughout cruises...and if there is not enough time to reach those folks, the revenue is lost forever...and, as has been the case in some instances, the result is the loss of particular excursions for ever based solely on high cancellation rates cutting too far into profits.

So there is a balance between an individual's desires to take an excursion, an individual's desires to cancel excursions and tour operators and cruise lines being financially able to offer excursions at a profit by protecting themselves from last minute cancellations.

As such I am baffled by where the alleged "pressure" came from...other than Walker trying weasel a way to hold Holland America liable.  And I believe "weasel" is the correct word.

Now:

Shall we allow those families that are suffering do so in peace?
Shall we allow the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA to perform their investigations?
Shall we allow the facts to all become known rather than trying to find or create facts simply to make an argument in an effort line Walker's pocket?  (He is trying to reach the families to represent them, isn't he?)

Clearly there are theories upon which liability may well rise.  I do not claim Holland America is not responsible in some part.  That is not the point of this article.  Those matters will be litigated and, in great probability, settled before a trial.  

But for now, let's allow the tragedy to be just that...without the personal attacks on those suffering and without tugging at the nerves of those directly affected.  And, especially without hyperbole and ad hominem attacks.