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                                                               Raúl J. Chacón, Jr. Brings Engineering Background to Maritime Defense Practice

Raul Chacon

Raúl J. Chacón, Jr., knows a great deal about marine products and safe boating practices. As the managing partner of the Miami office of The Chartwell Law Offices, LLP, Chacón defends individual and commercial clients in a variety of admiralty and maritime legal matters. “I got into marine products liability because of my engineering background,” says Chacón, who is board certified in admiralty and maritime law. “I love meeting the manufacturer’s engineers and designers when defending a case."

For example, Chacón recently finished a three-week products liability trial following a serious accident on Biscayne Bay. A power boat was cruising at about 50 knots, when an outboard engine fell off, sending the boat’s passengers into the water with serous injuries.

“It turned out that the wrong mounting bolt had been installed on the boat,” Chacón says. “The engineering experts and I went over the drawings and installation procedures for the mounting, and found that someone had modified that bolt after it had been installed. The plaintiff’s experts kept presenting their theories about the manufacturer’s liability, but we were able to debunk each one. In the end, the jury agreed that they had not proven their case in a matter that involved a seven-figure exposure to my client.”

An Engineering Education

Chacón was born in Atlanta, the son of Cuban émigré parents. His father, Raúl, Sr., an engineer, and his mother Lidia left soon after Castro took power in 1959. The family moved to Miami when Chacón was in school. In high school, Chacón planned to study medicine and received a pre-med scholarship at Barry University.

“I realized that medicine was not going to be my career path, and changed direction to engineering,” he says. Chacón spent his first year at Miami-Dade Community College and then transferred to the University of Miami with a scholarship in electrical engineering. He graduated from the UM College of Engineering, with bachelor’s degree in 1990.

“While I was in college, one of my friends told me that I would be an excellent attorney,” Chacón says. “Not long after that, we were eating in a Chinese restaurant and I opened a fortune cookie that said, ‘You will become a good lawyer.’ I considered that an omen – although I took my friend’s advice more seriously – and applied to the University of Miami School of Law.”

Chacón enjoyed law school, especially the intellectual property and litigation classes. “I decided to become a patent attorney, because that would draw on my interest and background in engineering,” he says. But while at a job fair interviewing with intellectual property firms, the UM placement director suggested talking with the FBI and the district attorney’s office in Brooklyn, N.Y. A few days later, Chacón received an offer from the Brooklyn DA’s office, even though he hadn’t submitted a resume.

Chacón liked the idea of becoming a prosecutor, but decided to stay in South Florida, where he was hired by Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, just before she became President Clinton’s attorney general. “I worked at the office for four years, handling a wide range of cases,” he says. “That period was incredibly helpful in building my trial skills.”

The next step in Chacón’s career was moving into the private sector and applying those hard-earned litigation skills in a different field: admiralty and maritime law. In 1997, he joined Hayden & Milliken in Coral Gables, which later became the Miami office of Fowler Rodriguez, and spent ten years with the firm.
Chacón steadily built his credentials in admiralty and maritime law, and after a big insurance coverage case in 2006, he joined Houck Anderson. Three years ago, the Miami firm merged with Philadelphia-based Chartwell Law Offices LLP, and today the Miami office has about 18 attorneys.

As vice chair of The Florida Bar Maritime Law Committee, and incoming chairman of The Florida Bar Admiralty & Maritime Law Board Certification Committee, Chacón is a leader in the state’s maritime legal community. “We now have 65 attorneys who are board certified in this specialization, constituting a well-respected admiralty bar,” he says.

Handling National Cases

Today, Chacón handles marine product liability cases on a national level. He is regularly appointed to act as national and local counsel by insurance companies on marine products liability matters and has represented clients from jurisdictions as far north as Canada, throughout the Continental U.S., Hawaii, Caribbean and South America. He has also been retained as outside general counsel by various companies to provide guidance in a wide variety of matters.

“Raúl is an exceptional individual and a great lawyer,” says Maria R. Nigro, Sr., a marine examiner in Virginia. “He recently handled a case for us all the way through trial, resulting in a very positive outcome.” On the personal side, Chacón and his wife Odette, a stockbroker, have a son Lucas and daughter Katerina. “I am a big ‘Star Wars’ fan – hence my son’s name – and have always enjoyed sports,” he says. “I enjoy skiing, running, biking and swimming.” In the past six years, Chacón has competed in half-marathons and triathlons in Miami and Orlando. He has also been active in the community, serving on the board of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s South Florida chapter.

Professionally, Chacón teaches maritime insurance law at the University of Miami. “I enjoy mentoring younger lawyers, as well,” he says, adding that there is a need for more Hispanics and African-Americans in marine law. As a board member of the Cuban American Bar Association, Chacón helped endow about $500,000 for scholarships in Florida law schools, and started a mentorship program that has involved more than 1,000 participants.

He has been published and has presented on various topics, including maritime law and practice, handling maritime claims in the U.S., management of maintenance and cure, risk shifting in maritime contracts, products liability and analysis of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Chacón currently serves as an adviser to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and on the board of the League of Prosecutors, an organization of current and former prosecutors that seeks to educate the public about the judicial system.

Throughout his career, Chacón has always tried to do the right thing. In the early 2000s, he represented the insurer in a case in Grand Cayman involving a tanker carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) that exploded, killing three crew members and injuring a dozen more. “The vessel was registered in Panama and the crew was from Colombia,” he says. “Even though it didn’t touch U.S. soil, the ship’s manager was based here in the U.S. That led to a fight over jurisdiction before the case was eventually settled.”

During the proceedings, Chacón traveled regularly to Colombia, talking to local attorneys, injured crew members and families of the deceased, whose lives were changed by the accident. “It was very important for us to do the right thing,” he says. “For instance, we went out and helped get hearing aids for some of the crew, as well as providing a fair financial settlement for the families. Even though I was on the defense side, we were able to build lasting friendships and I still get Christmas cards from some of them.”

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