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Fighting for Justice on the High Seas With Spencer Aronfeld

Fighting for Justice on the High Seas With Spencer Aronfeld

March 20, 2024   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Spencer Aronfeld Spencer Aronfeld

Spencer Aronfeld is the CEO of Aronfeld Trial Lawyers, a firm known for its commitment to representing individuals against large corporations in cases involving severe injuries across a range of areas, including cruise ship injuries, wrongful death, and automobile accidents. He has gained international recognition for his advocacy, notably securing a significant verdict against Walt Disney World in one of his first jury trials. 

Spencer is Board Certified as a Civil Trial Lawyer by both the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy, underscoring his expertise and professionalism in the legal field. Additionally, he is a frequent lecturer, sharing his knowledge with lawyers and law students across the country, and has appeared on several national television programs. His legal battles and dedication to justice have earned him the title of one of Florida’s Super Lawyers and one of the 20 Most Intriguing Floridians by Florida Magazine.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Spencer Aronfeld shares how and when he knew he wanted to be an attorney
  • What motivated Spencer to start his own firm right out of school?
  • Growing a legal career while doing pro bono work
  • Why Spencer decided to specialize in cruise ship injury law
  • Handling cruise ship injury cases with unique challenges
  • The importance of finding the right judge for a cruise ship injury case

In this episode…

Taking on big cruise companies in court is a huge challenge. It’s a fight where you need a lot of legal knowledge and a strong desire to help people who have been wronged. How does a lawyer manage to win against such large opponents?

Spencer Aronfeld, a seasoned trial lawyer with a track record of holding cruise lines accountable, says it begins with a deep commitment to justice and the belief that everyone deserves their day in court. Spencer emphasizes the importance of meticulous preparation, understanding federal court dynamics, and empathizing with clients who are often overwhelmed by the legal process. His approach is not just about winning cases but ensuring that individuals are heard and compensated fairly, often in the face of daunting opposition from well-funded corporate legal teams.

In this episode of 15 Minutes, Chad Franzen talks with Spencer Aronfeld, CEO of Aronfeld Trial Lawyers, about his work in maritime law. They discuss Spencer‘s journey to becoming a champion for individuals against cruise lines, his strategies for success in federal court, and the emotional resilience required to tackle these challenging cases. This episode gives a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to stand up for people against powerful companies.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. 

To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. 

To learn more, go to or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01  You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know but likely don’t. Chad Franzen  0:13  Hi. Chad Franzen here, one of the hosts of Share Your Voice where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence machine learning and decades of experienced outperform the competition. To learn more go to where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Spencer Aronfeld of Aronfeld Trial Lawyers is an international authority and holding cruiselines accountable for prioritizing profits over passenger safety. After graduating Cum Laude from the University of Miami Law School in 1991, he founded his Coral Gables based firm, dedicating his career to championing individuals against corporate juggernauts, including major cruise lines and companies like Bear, Johnson and Johnson and Walmart. He frequently lectures nationwide and several media platforms, including Dr. Phil, the Today Show on NBC and Dateline NBC. His accolades also include being recognized as one of Florida Super Lawyers, and one of the 20 most intriguing Floridians by Florida Magazine. Spencer, it’s great to have you today. How are you? Spencer Aronfeld  1:35   Thank you so much, Chad. Thanks for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. Chad Franzen  1:38  Yeah, great to have you. Hey, how and when did you know that you wanted to be an attorney? Spencer Aronfeld  1:45 I think it started off when I was in high school, I had an opportunity to sort of represent a seriously injured or ill I should say, Ill young lady who I grew up with fighting her parking tickets. She was disabled but didn’t have a disabled sticker. And the school had just given her like 30 parking tickets. And I said, let me go see if I can solve this issue for you. I had no idea that she was critically ill. And I went in there and presented the case. I get a little emotional even thinking about it does it was a young lady I grew up with. And I just had my 40th high school reunion. And of course, she wasn’t there. And, and and I walked into the principal’s office. And of course I’m with this. I didn’t know just how sick she was. But it was obvious to the principal that this was a very sick child. Or maybe he knew, and he immediately toured the tickets up. But I felt this great sense of happiness being able to help somebody. And I was like, Wow, maybe this is something I should explore. I didn’t know how I didn’t know what in what format and of course, you know, I was 17. So it wasn’t really necessarily thinking that this is why I should be a lawyer. But it planted a seed that grew within me. And then if you know as I as I went to college and started thinking about things in life, that episode was so important in like decision making, that I I gravitated towards this. And, and even once I got to law school, the idea of being a personal injury lawyer was very discouraged in my law school at the University of Miami. My professors openly discourage me from pursuing this. But I liked the dynamic. And one of the cases that we had in law school was an imaginary case, but a man who contracted AIDS when his condom broke, and sued the condom manufacturer. And a lot of students didn’t want anything to do with that taste. And I argued that case, I argued it from the side of the manufacturer or from the side of the man back and forth, back and forth. We worked our way all the way up to weigh the moot court competition because I was so passionate about it. I’m, I’m not passionate about fighting over real estate deals. I’m not passionate about family law. I’m not passionate about criminal law. I’m not passionate about adoption, or entertainment law, or anything like that. But the dynamic of holding the biggest possible corporate entity responsible when I’m representing the smallest and most vulnerable person is as thrilling to me today as it was dead and want me to cry on your podcast. But you asked me such a deeply personal question that I had to look deep with inside me to answer that from my heart. And that is the that is Truth. Chad Franzen  5:01   That’s great. Spencer Aronfeld  5:02  I think you probably picked the wrong guy to share your podcast. Chad Franzen  5:07   No, that’s fantastic. What is their kind of a common thread? You know, people think like why I have no chance against some of these massive corporations, especially like, like a person, you know, just an individual kind of everyday person? Is there like a common thread that has allowed you to be successful? In a lot of these cases? Spencer Aronfeld  5:34   Well, um, maybe my clients have doubts about whether or not we can hold the corporation responsible, but I have no doubt about it. So I’ve agreed to a degree of confidence that we can ultimately hold the corporation responsible. I am not always right. And there have been many times in my career where a jury disagree with my analysis of the case and my evidence. So I’m not always right. But I always believe in the law, and in the general concept that, you know, people are entitled to their day in court. I will tell you, I hate to the police rise the expression of one of our most themed politician, but the system is a little bit rigged. And it’s really only rigged in favor of the corporations, particularly in the area of maritime law, which is where I’m focusing most of my energy at this point in my career is seeking cruise lines. Boy, the cruise lines got the law on their side. And so it is extremely difficult to hold a cruise line responsible. But we find a way to do it most of the time. Chad Franzen  6:47  So you you founded Aronfeld Trial Lawyers, after after graduating from the University of Miami law school, what motivated you to start your own firm right out of school? Spencer Aronfeld  6:58  It was really a necessity. Even though I graduated the top of my law school class, I couldn’t get a job. And part of the problem was, I didn’t even know what kind of law um, I was so desperate for anything, I didn’t know what kind of law that I would even be the right fit for. So I would go to these interviews. And I go to this interview, it’s big, fancy law firm, some corporate giant law firm. I didn’t know no one, no one explained any of this to me. And I was obviously not a good match. I mean, I reflect sometimes on how poorly my interviews went, because I was talking about helping the little people and how important it was holding corporations responsible. I was telling this to the people that defend the corporations. So it wasn’t a good match. As I was looking for a job. I was getting clients. And I was spending more time working on my clients cases than working for a job. And I didn’t have an office already big. So I started practicing law out of the Law School Library at the University of Miami, and I did so the Munson until somebody figured out what I was doing there. But I had nowhere to go and nothing to do but but help these small individuals against whoever it was they were fighting and it sort of turned into a law firm in spite of itself. And before I knew it, I had enough business that I moved out of the library. I sublet an office, I started hiring my classmates to assist me because I had classmates also that were unemployed. And it grew into a law firm. And that was in 1991. And it’s been going strong. I’m knocking on wood ever since. Chad Franzen  8:47   Wow, that’s that’s quite a story. So how how were you accumulating these clients while you were still student? Spencer Aronfeld  8:55   Well, I’d already graduated law school. Okay, I was looking for jobs. And here’s the first case, Chad, I went to get a haircut before my interview. Of course, no one told me how to dress. i No one told me that they didn’t have any type of instruction as even how to do an interview. I’ve never interviewed for a job in my life. And I’m getting my hair cut and the hairdresser be been cutting my hair for the three years during law school is talking to me about her son’s circumcision. That didn’t go right. And unlike leafing through the People Magazine, I’m barely listening to it. I don’t want to say I could have cared less, but I didn’t know why she’s telling me about her son circumcision. I’m just okay. Okay. And at the end of the thing, I’m like, Alright, we’ll see you later. And she’s a way to say, yes, you helped my son. And I said with his circumcision. What What am I supposed to do? She goes, but aren’t you a warrior now? Haven’t you graduated? Law School aren’t your lawyer. It was the first time someone even suggested that to me, that was like, yes. I’ve literally had my Florida Bar card in my pocket to take it to get laminated. I had just received it. I probably showed it to her. And as he says, Well, maybe you can see the hospital that didn’t do the circumcision right on my son. I had no idea how to do that. So I started taking this potential case with me to the interviews, this is how misguided I was Chad, I would go to a family law law firm can say oh, by the way, I had this case with the circumcision, I’m talking to the wrong orders about the wrong case, I didn’t even know until finally, um, I went and spoke to a lawyer who handles medical malpractice cases. And I tried to use this case as leverage for them to hire me to work on the case. And I’ll never forget the conversation. He says, we don’t want the case. We don’t want you or the case. But we’ll tell you what to do. We’ll tell you how to do it. I’ll never forget this. And so the main guy didn’t have the time to tell me what to do or how to do it. So he passed me on to some young lawyer. Now this is 30 something years ago. So that young lawyer is probably in his 70s Now, and may where there is one since passed away. And they gave me forms. This predates word processing, they gave me forms, they gave me some statutes to look at. And I started suing the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital for the circumcision that had gone wrong. And I won the case. I don’t know how well it was, it was pretty much indefensible. It wasn’t a big case that it wasn’t defensible. And they paid a lot of money. And it got in the newspaper, not so much because there was so much money, but because some kid working out of the law school library took on this big hospital. And as a result of that publicity, all these lawyers in town started sending me their small cases that they didn’t want. And I didn’t know the difference between a good case or a bad case. So I just took them all. And all of a sudden, I had all these cases, most of them were awful. Nothing but time on my hands, and a desire. And I started working at these bookcases and I started hiring my classmates to help me take on all these small cases. And that’s how it all sort of started. One circumcision gone wrong. Chad Franzen  12:43  Wow. So you know, you kind of become your reputation is one of a lawyer for the people. Are you you told me about some of these awful cases that you just took when you were starting out? Maybe you didn’t know any better? Are you more selective in terms of how you decide to take on cases now? Spencer Aronfeld  13:02 Oh, yeah, I’m much more selective. But I got into my mind, somehow, for most of my career, that I owed it as an obligation to take on cases regardless of the profitability of those cases. And I practice that way for a long, long time. And I think, I believe in God, I think God benefited me from that, because it taught me how to be a lawyer. So you know, I took on a lot of really, really small bad cases in the beginning, but I got a lot of trial experience. As I got married, and had children and had more expenses, and decided to say, You know what, I don’t want to within the completely financially stressed out existence all the time, I need to be more selective. And as I became more experienced, I was able to see Wally waving, this is a horrible case. And and learn to say no, but it was very hard for me to do that. And Chad, it took decades for me to be able to say no, because I was so honored that someone wanted me to be their lawyer, after having the rejection of no one wanted to hire me. Now I got people asking me to be their lawyer and I just took on this the small cases. So I became more selective as I became older as I started to incur more financial responsibility to my family, and to myself. And, you know, I still once in a while take one on if it really bothers me, but I created a way to take on those cases that don’t and won’t bankrupt me. I created a nonprofit called Lawyers to the Rescue. We are based in a homeless shelter here in Miami called the Camilla his house, it’s the largest homeless shelter in the southeast United States, we have an office there, and all the work is done check pro bono, which means that we don’t charge anybody for anything that we do. Even when we get that money, we don’t take a penny of it. And this allows me to give it away, like the red hot chili pepper song, I can give it away, give it away now, and other lawyers to give it away. And it allows law students to come and learn how to give it away, which is something I fear is not necessarily being taught in our law schools now the importance of public service. So it gives this it creates a mentoring environment, which was so essential to my development, where we can sort of a dot young law students who see the value in pro bono service, and teach them how to do it so that when they get out of law school, they know how to do it. So it’s called the lawyers to the rescue. It’s a non for profit, 5013. C, the pandemic almost killed it, because we couldn’t get into the homeless shelter free years. So we were doing them remotely like this conversation is on Zoom. And it’s it was very difficult, if you can imagine the continuity of representation of the homeless is extremely challenging, but when you’re doing it remotely, they don’t have access to cell phones and internet. And it’s very difficult. And I honestly thought, somewhat recently that maybe this is not something that can survive the pandemic. It’s been going on for over 10 1314 years. But it’s, it’s coming back little by little. So if anyone is watching this is interested in where’s the recipe? Take a look at the website, you may be interested in creating something similar wherever you are. Chad Franzen  16:55  Yeah, what’s the website? Spencer Aronfeld  16:57  lawyerstotherescue I think it’s .org Chad Franzen  17:01   Okay, Lawyers to Rescue. Yeah, sounds good. You know, as I mentioned in your intro, you are an international authority at holding cruiselines accountable. We talked about a little bit earlier. What kind of made you zero in on on that? Spencer Aronfeld  17:17   Well Chad, so I always practicing 20 something years, and got a significant cruise ship case in the office, which was very unusual, because it’s not something that I had much, if any experience had in the really big case against cruise line. And I started working on it. And the cases are litigated in federal court. So already the level of the judiciary in federal court is miles more sophisticated than the typical slip and fall on a banana peel at your local Piggly Wiggly case. So I go to federal court, which I had never been to,I go to federal court and the judge who’s now our Chief Judge Cecilia Alton Agha. What I was so impressed by this judge, she knew the case, she knew the case better than I knew while case. She she knew the law. And the and the advocate on the other side was such a great lawyer. And I was like, Wait a second, this seems to me like, you know, the NFL versus College. Um, it was a new level of sophistication. And I had to learn a new language because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal evidence, all this is new. And it was exciting and challenging. And then dynamic for a guy who gets off on the David versus Goliath. Carnival Cruise Line, it’s a country. I mean, they have more ships than most countries have in their navies. So I mean, it’s a country and they were so well funded. And the defense lawyer was who I just sent a message to this morning the same way. I was so impressed by this guy, the level and the sophistication. And there’s an international aspect to it, you know, witnesses in foreign countries, and I was like, wow, this is something exciting and different for me. There was a learning curve. And quite frankly, a terrified learning curve because the rules are different. And federal court. There’s no nonsense in there. And it’s not. The deadlines are our deadlines. So like if you miss a deadline, you’re in big trouble. And I remember judge Alton Agha say to me, Mr. Ehrenfeld, as we’re approaching the trial, I just want you to know that the trial starts Monday, and I’m a guest judge because Wait a second, I want you to know, the trial will start Monday. It’s not like state court where they say the trial will start Monday and you get there and it does didn’t start to two weeks or three weeks or a month continuances when they say it’s gonna go, it goes. So it was little things like that and it moves very fast. You know, you file a cases Federal Court today you will have a trial date. Within a few months, you file a case in state court today, you may not have a trial day for a year or two. So moves quickly. I liked it. It’s exciting. It was something new to work at. It’s a challenge. It’s extremely challenging. So I to me, it was like finding a golden ticket for Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I found my where I was supposed to be. Chad Franzen  20:42  But what are the typical if there are typical scenarios that would lead somebody to come to to an attorney like yourself after being on a cruise and having something happen? Like what’s the what’s the scenario that might happen on a cruise? Spencer Aronfeld  20:54  I get this call for days or times a day. Here’s here’s the typical of typical, I mean, this is what I would call the mundane cruise ship case. Little Old Lady from Wichita saves up on money to go on a cruise. She flies into Miami works this cruise ship she’s never seen anything like this in a wife. So somebody tells her you know Mrs. Smith in the morning, seven o’clock, out at the pool on the Lido Deck. They have free coffee and doughnuts. She can’t wait. She gets up the next morning. She’s all excited. She puts on brand new flip flops that she bought at DSW. Brand new for the crews at her nails done pedicure. She goes out there steps on that Lido Deck. It’s a combination of the sea salt air, the change in the interior to the exterior, and they just mopped the deck because it’s early in the morning. They just mopped it, and she takes one step onto that fake tee for and breaks her pelvis breaks her arm, breaks her ankle. She has no idea what happened. She wakes up in the medical center on this ship. She doesn’t know what went wrong. She ends up getting dropped off in Kusa Valley, which is the next court. She’s got to find her. Jen speaks Spanish she’s got to find a way back to Wichita from Costa Mel. Most of these folks buy travel insurance. So they get an air ambulance through something to take them back to Wichita, they get surgery in Wichita. The family members say You know what, you got to see the cruise line. She’s never seen anyone in her life that she’s never had a lawyer in her life. But they keep saying something, you got to do something, something finally the son calls me now or the son calls a warrior in Wichita who doesn’t do cruise ship stuff. And then that lawyer calls me and says, Hey, would you be interested in a case like this, I don’t know. Like, we got 300 of them just like that, say ship, our senior class of ships. And so this lady who’s never had a lawsuit or her wife is now in a federal lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Line. And man, they defend these very, very aggressively. And a quite frankly, they they they do beat them up a little bit. They don’t make it easy on the on the little old lady, they make her fly to Miami several times and coming to Miami from Wichita, we might as well be going to San Jose, Costa Rica, because this is this is an exotic destination for her. And ultimately, most of the time it the case will settle. And most of the time the case settles because they’re so worn out our clients from all this, that they’re there they’re willing to take what is being offered or a reasonable offer. Occasionally I’ll get one that has the strength to go the distance. But most of them most of these cases do resolve before jury trial because they make it so financially and emotionally difficult to see them. Chad Franzen  24:00   So they’re not settling because they’re settling because of the amount being offered. They’re settling just to get it over with Spencer Aronfeld  24:07  Well, the most of the time we can get carnival to pay more than they really want to. And most of our clients, most of them are very reasonable people. It’s a very different dynamic most not all of a cruise ship passenger, then somebody slips and falls at Target. These most of these people have health insurance, most of them are often retired. So you know that they don’t have a loss of income claim. And they’re not litigious people. Very rarely do we have a quiet who’s had a prior lawsuits or prior accidents. In a cruise ship case. You take the same situation and somebody slips and falls at Target and this will be there. They’ve had two car accidents pre prior slip and falls. You know they’re learning what to do. Here’s the these are different folks. And the part that really concerns me is they’re not from Miami. They don’t look like they’re from Miami. They don’t talk like they’re from Miami. And it’s hard to get a jury necessarily to feel the same degree of connected this to some weird old lady from Wichita. You You know, doesn’t who’s not from here there’s the weight to Carnival is very much the whole team in Miami they have a huge presence. In Miami, there’s buildings all over South Florida. That’s a carnival. In fact, Chad, that homeless shelter used to see Norwegian Cruise Line on the top of it. It doesn’t anymore and I don’t think Norwegian ever figured out that I was actually officing in there. But that homeless shelter was sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line. So if you live in Miami, you’re gonna see advertisements for all the cruise lines on all the billboards and you see the ships all the time. This is the Port of Miami this year. And either you work the carnival No. So work on category you go. Okay, so it’s a tough you’re you’re the away team whenever you come to Miami do see what cruise line? Chad Franzen  26:15   So given the I guess that that inherent difficulty and the desire sometimes for the client to settle? Would you as as a confident attorney who has gone up against these large entities? Would you prefer always to take them all the way to the distance? Or is settling something you don’t mind? Spencer Aronfeld  26:32  So I’ve learned? That’s a great question, Chad, I’ve learned to put my personal desires aside, as best I can. I will tell them what my personal desires are. But I’ll always say hey, Chad, this is your case. These are your risks. Do you really want to spend a week with me in Miami in a courtroom? And by the way, and I’m glad this is being recorded, most of the federal judges do not like or want to be listening to a cruise ship case, they did not become federal judges. Because some widowed lady from Wichita slipped on the Lido Deck, they resent it, most of them. And most of them will make it very difficult for that little lady to get her day in court because they know she’s taking up a week of their value in valuable time to hear a slip and fall and they don’t like it. So unless we have the right judge, that’s one of the first things I look at is do we have a judge who will give my client a 15 Or, and Not all of them will. And I have the client who’s willing to go the distance and risk because carnival will make an offer at one point that they have to weigh the risks versus the benefits. Their current was very strategic at some point, they’ll make an offer and won’t be this humongous amount of money. But is it worth risking going to Las Vegas and enrolling the wheel? You know, when you’ve got chips on the table? And most of these people are not risk takers. But I always will tell them my my thoughts. But it’s them. It’s their case, and it’s their wife and I got hundreds of cases, but I would rather be in trial more. But it takes a really special individual that’s willing to like go the distance there. Chad Franzen  28:23  I have one more question. Yeah, I would imagine. I have one more question for you. But first just tell me how people can find out more about Aronfeld Trial Lawyers obviously, you don’t have to be a Miami residents based on some of the stories you’ve told so yeah. What else? Spencer Aronfeld  28:39 No. Yeah, very rarely, thank you Chad or any my clients from South Florida. I have one now and in the case is going to mediation on Friday. I’m so excited. Because I could say that carnival take a look at this lady. Because this this lady is my Hamby. Everyone’s going to know someone like her or everyone on that jury is going to be her or are seeing someone like her before so Andrea excited so to find me you can go on the website. I’m very active on social media. I don’t know if your listeners follow the TikTok but hundreds of 1000s of followers on Tiktok I post daily cruise ship law stories on TikTok so you can check that out. I’m on Instagram as well. But is probably the easiest way to find us and reached us. Chad Franzen  29:37 Okay, great. We were talking about going the distance I know you I read that you are an avid marathon runner. Does that kind of discipline, ability willingness to go that distance kind of translate into your professional life? Spencer Aronfeld  29:52  Chad, excellent question. There’s so many similarities that I find in distance running and trial work. It’s all in the head. You know, there’s there’s a lot of voices in my head when I’m running long distances that tell me to stop, or that it hurts too much. And you have to silence those voices. And I can do this. It’s a dialogue. And I have that dialogue with myself with cases. You know, it’s too hard. It’s too risky. It’s too expensive. These cases cost me on the average about 50,000 to $100,000 per days to get to trial. And so the voices are in my head, just like when I’m running pullover. And I’ve learned to silence them. There’s a lot of similarities I have found between the pain of running races and the pain of trying cases. I love them both. And assurance feels good when you get to the finish line. But there’s a there’s a big conversation. I have it by hit mile after mile 30 Chad Franzen  30:59 I don’t doubt it. Hey, Spencer, it’s been great to talk to you. I can see why you are one of Florida’s most intriguing people. Thanks so much for your time and your insights. Spencer Aronfeld  31:09  Oh, it’s absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me. Chad Franzen  31:12  So long, everybody. Outro  31:15  Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes. Be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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