Published: January 24, 2014
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
I posted in Towboatlaw on this case in January 2013, four days after U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon entered her decision in Harrington v. Atlantic Sounding Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2988 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 7, 2013), finding Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. and Weeks Marine, Inc. negligent under the Jones Act and the tug CANDACE unseaworthy under the general maritime law. She found no contributory negligence and awarded Frederick J. Harrington Jr., 52 at the time of the accident, $478,948 in past lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, $500,000 for past pain and suffering, and $700,000 for future pain and suffering. The defendants appealed to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Three days ago, in Marasa v. Atlantic Sounding Co., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 1073 (2d Cir. Jan. 21, 2014) (unpub.), this appeals court largely affirmed the judgment, which, with prejudgment interest, totaled $1,727,471.16. The Second Circuit only reduced the judgment by $16,308, the sum which the defendants previously paid pursuant to a Claim Arbitration Agreement.
Of particular interest in the appeals court’s decision is its approval of the trial court’s findings in favor of the injured crewman on his claim for general maritime law unseaworthiness, and the trial judge’s award of $1.2 million for past and future pain and suffering damages.
As to unseaworthiness, the Second Circuit wrote how its precedent has long held that a vessel can be unseaworthy if its crew is inadequately trained: “Our precedent recognizes that ‘a vessel being operated by an incompetent captain or crew is considered unseaworthy,'” citing Complaint of Messina, 574 F.3d 119, 127 (2d Cir. 2009), Matter of Guglielmo, 897 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1990), Tug Ocean Prince, Inc. v. United States, 584 F.2d 1151, 1155 (2d Cir. 1978), and 1B Benedict on Admiralty § 24 (2004) (recognizing that “an unseaworthy condition . . . on an otherwise fit vessel” can be created by “incompetent training or experience” or “unsafe method of work”).
In affirming Judge Gershon’s assessment of $500,000 in past and $700,000 in future pain and suffering damages, the Second Circuit found, first, that even though the injured crewman, Frederick J. Harrington Jr., died while the appeal was pending (Madeline Marasa is the personal representative of Harrington, in whose name the appeal was defended), the defendants were unentitled to a reduction in his estate’s future pain and suffering damages award. Second, the appeals court discussed how the trial court found “Harrington’s injury resulted in extraordinary pain and suffering, requiring multiple spinal surgeries and daily medication.” Judge Gershon had described in detail Harrington’s two back surgeries and the many activities he could no longer perform, given his injuries. Accordingly, the Second Circuit did not find the $1.2 million pain and suffering damages award excessive, and affirmed.
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, represents crewmen of towboats, tugs, barges, and other commercial vessels, as well as passengers aboard cruise and excursion boats and ships. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act or the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” feel free to contact Fred Goldsmith or Rich Ogrodowski toll-free at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published: December 23, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
While deckhanding for Double J. Marine, LLC aboard its towboat, the M/V MISS KAYLYNN, Matthew Nuber seriously injured his back while pulling on a face wire. On the day of the accident, Nuber only had the benefit of an emergency room physician’s opinion, without any diagnostic testing, such as an x-ray or an MRI, that he had only pulled a muscle. One week later, Nuber returned to the ER where another physician released him to work full duty, still without any diagnostic testing, and without the opinion of a specialist, such as an orthopedic or neurosurgeon.
Later the same day, deckhand Nuber met with the vessel owner’s claims adjuster at a gas station and signed a “Receipt, Release, and Hold Harmless Agreement.” The adjuster read and explained the release to Nuber and Nuber signed the release, purportedly knowingly giving up all his claims against Double J for the shipboard accident. In exchange for signing the release, Double J paid Nuber only $860. Nuber returned to work for Double J the next day.
About one month later, Nuber’s back pain returned. Double J placed him on light duty, until Nuber could no longer continue to work. Then, Double J finally sent Nuber to see a back specialist, an orthopedic surgeon, who promptly ordered an MRI. The doctor diagnosed Nuber with herniated discs, recommended surgery, and opined the shipboard accident had caused the back injury. Nuber then demanded Double J pay him maintenance and cure under the general maritime law. Double J responded by filing this lawsuit, seeking a declaratory judgment that the release Nuber signed insulated it from Nuber’s claims. Nuber then filed a Jones Act negligence, general maritime law unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure lawsuit against Double J in state court.
In Double J. Marine, LLC v. Nuber, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173408 (E.D. La. Dec. 11, 2013), U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana denied Double J’s motion for summary judgment, finding there were fact issues as to whether the release was enforceable. Consistent with longstanding admiralty law, Judge Feldman discussed how the courts are charged with being protective of the rights of seamen:
“Seamen are wards of admiralty law, whose rights federal courts are duty-bound to jealously protect. … In protecting their rights, the Court must be ‘particularly vigilant to guard against overreaching when a seaman purports to release his right to compensation for personal injuries.’ … At the same time, however, the Court must balance the utility of maintaining confidence in the finality of such settlements. … In carefully scrutinizing releases or settlement agreements involving seamen, the Court must ultimately determine whether the seaman had ‘an informed understanding of his rights and a full appreciation of the consequences’ of executing the release at the time he executed it.”
Judge Feldman further wrote how the seaman’s employer bears the burden of proving the validity of a release, how the amount of money he or she is paid for the release is significant, as is the nature and extent of any medical and legal advice the seaman had available to him or her when signing the release:
“The party claiming that the matter has been settled bears the burden of demonstrating that a seaman’s release of claims was ‘executed freely, without deception or coercion, and that it was made by the seaman with full understanding of his rights.’ … Adequacy of consideration is one factor for the Court to consider in determining whether the seaman had an informed understanding of his rights. … However, the Court ‘lacks authority, especially where the seaman testifies to complete satisfaction, to void the agreement simply because the court thinks the seaman could have negotiated a better deal.’ … Another factor the Court considers in determining whether the seaman had an informed understanding of his rights is the nature of medical and legal advice available to him. … In this regard, a seaman ‘may have to take his chances’ that a properly diagnosed condition is ‘more serious and extensive than originally thought.’ … Other factors the Court considers include whether the parties negotiated at arm’s length and in good faith, and whether there is the appearance of fraud, deception, coercion, or overreaching.”
Here, Judge Feldman had to review competing versions of the gas station release signing: a transcript of the “ceremony” versus an affidavit from Nuber. He concluded the release could not be summarily enforced against Nuber. The Court’s analysis:
“Double J. contends that the record establishes that, at the time of releasing his rights, Nuber had an informed understanding of his rights and a full appreciation of the consequences. The Court disagrees. The record includes, on the one hand, a transcript of the meeting between Nuber and the adjuster in which Nuber indicated that he understood his rights and agreed to release them, and on the other, an affidavit executed by Nuber in which he swears he did not fully understand the ramifications of the release. That alone creates a genuine issue regarding whether Nuber executed the release freely and with a full understanding of his rights.”
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“The record also reveals that Nuber has only completed the 10th grade in special education classes, that he only received $530 in [new] consideration for settlement, and that he was not represented by counsel when he executed the release. ‘Although a court may uphold a release even when the seaman is not represented by his own attorney, [the Fifth Circuit] has repeatedly emphasized the importance of counsel in determining whether a seaman fully understood his rights and the consequences of releasing those rights.’ … Neither did Nuber receive an independent medical opinion regarding his injuries before executing the release.”
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“Double J. contends that the record clearly establishes that Nuber received adequate medical advice. The Court again disagrees. The record reveals that, before he signed the release, Nuber was treated twice at River Parishes Hospital where he was diagnosed with a pulled muscle and told to return to work. The emergency room physicians did not conduct any diagnostic testing, and did not refer Nuber to a specialist. When Nuber later sought more treatment, Dr. Nutik ordered an MRI, diagnosed Nuber with herniated discs, and recommended surgery. The record at least reveals a genuine issue regarding the adequacy of the medical advice Nuber initially received, if not a mutual mistake regarding the nature of Nuber’s injury.”
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“Finally, although Double J. maintains that the parties negotiated at an arm’s length and in good faith, the record shows that Nuber signed the release at a gas station on the very same day he received treatment. Double J. has failed to meet its burden of establishing that Nuber signed the release freely, without deception or coercion, and with a full understanding of his rights.”
Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, represents the families of captains, pilots, mates, deckhands, engineers, and cooks who work aboard towboats, barges, and other commercial vessels, and who are seriously injured or killed on the job. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act or the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” feel free to contact us at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
Published: November 15, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
Two days after Christmas 2009 aboard the Tug TURECAMO GIRLS, deckhand Ricardo Young was crushed to death in the tug’s capstan. Medical experts testified Young was conscious for over two minutes to experience his body being torn apart as the towing line, attached to a sludge barge weighing 15 million pounds, wrapped him around the capstan while the captain attempted a “swing maneuver” on the Hackensack River. The case was tried to the bench. In In re Moran Towing Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161482 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 11, 2013), the court found Moran directly and vicariously negligent under the Jones Act and its tug unseaworthy under the general maritime law.
The court found:
“Moran failed to adequately implement any procedures or guidelines that would provide its crew with the requisite training, skill and knowledge to safely perform a swing maneuver, operate the capstan or handle towlines. … In fact, Moran issued no policies as to line-handling whatsoever, including ongoing training or standards for handling a line under strain. Additionally, Moran did not provide a safe work environment in which to handle the capstan, forcing Young to operate in a danger zone. These failures proximately contributed to Young’s death.”
The court further found:
“Moran also failed to provide any written policies or safety procedures regarding the swing maneuver as required under the ISM [International Safety Management Code] and RCP [American Waterways Operators Responsible Carrier Program]. Moran adheres to the ISM and the RCP, which respectively require that ‘the company should establish procedures, plans and instructions, including checklists as appropriate, for key shipboard operations concerning the safety of the personnel’ and ‘establish documented procedures for the use of . . . winches.’ … The capstan is a type of winch, and line-handling is arguably the most important ‘shipboard operation.’ … Despite subscribing to these safety requirements, Moran did not have any written guidelines, instructions or procedures whatsoever for line handling during swing maneuvers or capstan operations. … Moran did not have a risk assessment for a swing maneuver or handling lines under pressure, or safety procedures for capstan operations in any of its Port Advisories or safety meetings, or require its captains and crews to dedicate time during the safety meetings to discuss or practice the swing maneuver or capstan operations for lines under strain. … Additionally, Moran’s [safety and operations manual] contains no instructions with respect to line handling or the swing maneuver.”
The court held Moran had failed to prove it was entitled to limit its liability under the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act and that Young’s widow and estate were entitled to about $1.6 million in damages.
Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, represents the families of captains, pilots, deckhands, engineers, and cooks who work aboard towboats, barges, and other commercial vessels, and who are seriously injured or killed on the job. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act or the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” feel free to contact us at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published: October 18, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 20187 (5th Cir. Oct. 2, 2013), a panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of, if not the, most respected federal appellate courts when it comes to the development of maritime law in the United States, found that the Jones Act, which has been held to prohibit the recovery by seamen of non-pecuniary damages in a negligence claim brought under that statute, was no bar to the recovery of a form of non-pecuniary damages, specifically punitive damages, under the general maritime law in a seaman’s unseaworthiness action. The Court described how punitive damages were available under the general maritime law long before the passage in 1920 of the Jones Act, and how the Jones Act did not expressly eliminate such damages.
The Fifth Circuit navigated around the Supreme Court’s decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), by following the Supreme Court’s more recent decision in Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009). In Townsend, the Supreme Court wrote:
“Because punitive damages have long been an accepted remedy under general maritime law, and because nothing in the Jones Act altered this understanding, such damages for the willful and wanton disregard of the maintenance and cure obligation should remain available in the appropriate case as a matter of general maritime law. Limiting recovery for maintenance and cure to whatever is permitted by the Jones Act would give greater pre-emptive effect to the Act than is required by its text, Miles, or any of this Court’s other decisions interpreting the statute.”
The Fifth Circuit in McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C built on the foundation excavated by the Supreme Court in Townsend, writing:
“…Townsend established a straightforward rule going forward: if a general maritime law cause of action and remedy were established before the passage of the Jones Act, and the Jones Act did not address that cause of action or remedy, then that remedy remains available under that cause of action unless and until Congress intercedes.”
We viewed this as a good decision for our clients and the river industry workers we regularly represent. Unfortunately, on September 25, 2014, all the judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, revisited this decision and overruled it, and on May 18, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review that decision. Perhaps after this issue has been addressed by other federal circuit courts of appeal, and conflicts develop amongst the circuits, the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to address the issue of the recoverability by Jones Act seamen of both punitive and loss of consortium / loss of society damages under the general maritime law. We believe they are recoverable under the sound logic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend.
Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, serves as legal counsel for captains, pilots, deckhands, engineers, and cooks who work aboard towboats, barges, and other commercial vessels, and who are seriously injured or killed on the job. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act or the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” feel free to contact us at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
Published: September 23, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), lower state and federal courts have been grappling with whether punitive damages and other nonpecuniary damage claims (like loss of consortium and loss of society) are available to seamen under the general maritime law, and to longshore and harbor workers in a negligence action against vessel operators under Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. Section 905(b) (“LHWCA”).
Section 905(b) of the LHWCA states:
“(b) Negligence of vessel. In the event of injury to a person covered under this Act caused by the negligence of a vessel, then such person, or anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages by reason thereof, may bring an action against such vessel as a third party in accordance with the provisions of section 33 of this Act [33 USCS § 933], and the employer shall not be liable to the vessel for such damages directly or indirectly and any agreements or warranties to the contrary shall be void. If such person was employed by the vessel to provide stevedoring services, no such action shall be permitted if the injury was caused by the negligence of persons engaged in providing stevedoring services to the vessel. If such person was employed to provide shipbuilding, repairing, or breaking services and such person’s employer was the owner, owner pro hac vice, agent, operator, or charterer of the vessel, no such action shall be permitted, in whole or in part or directly or indirectly, against the injured person’s employer (in any capacity, including as the vessel’s owner, owner pro hac vice, agent, operator, or charterer) or against the employees of the employer. The liability of the vessel under this subsection shall not be based upon the warranty of seaworthiness or a breach thereof at the time the injury occurred. The remedy provided in this subsection shall be exclusive of all other remedies against the vessel except remedies available under this Act.”
In Callahan v. Gulf Logistics, LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133050 (W.D. La. Sept. 16, 2013), U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi of the Western District of Louisiana, Lake Charles Division, found, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Atlantic Sounding decision, that a longshoreman could recover punitive damages under the general maritime law in a negligence action, and that such damages were not prohibited by Section 905(b) or the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990).
Judge Minaldi wrote:
“Further, the Court in Townsend dispensed with the petitioners’ argument that Miles precluded the availability of punitive damages under general maritime law, stating that a reading which interprets Miles as ‘limit[ing] recovery in maritime cases involving death or personal injury to the remedies available under the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) . . . is far too broad.’ Townsend, 557 U.S. at 418-19 (citing 46 U.S.C. §§ 30301-30306). ‘[B]y providing a remedy for wrongful death suffered on the high seas or in territorial waters, [Miles recognized that] the Jones Act and DOHSA displaced a general maritime rule that denied any recovery for wrongful death.’ Id. at 419 (citing Miles, 498 U.S. at 23-24). Thus, the Court in Miles was tasked only with determining whether statutory maritime law such as the Jones Act and DOHSA expanded the relief previously available under general maritime law. Id. Discussing such relief, the Court notes that punitive damages ‘were well established before the passage of the Jones Act.’ Id. at 420 (internal citations omitted). As such, these were damages previously available as part of general maritime law, and the availability of such damages was not altered by the enactment of § 905(b). Ultimately, the Supreme Court finds that ‘the availability of punitive damages for maintenance and cure actions is entirely faithful to these ‘general principles of maritime tort law,’ and no statute casts doubt on their availability under general maritime law.’ Id. at 421….As a result of the Supreme Court’s recent assertion in Townsend, and its clarification of its holding in Miles, it seems clear that punitive damages are available for actions under general maritime law unless Congress has expressly forbade such availability. This court finds nothing in the language of § 905(b) which could be construed as so limiting the availability of punitive damages in a negligence action under the LHWCA.”
The Court also explained why it was not following a contrary view of at least one other Louisiana federal trial court: “It should be noted that the court is aware that at least one other court in this circuit has reached a contrary conclusion on this issue. See In re: Int’l Marine, L.L.C., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91370, 30 (E.D. La. 2013) (holding that under Scarborough v. Clemco Indus., 391 F.3d 660 (5th Cir. 2004), a seaman and his spouse are barred from seeking punitive damages . . . from a non-employer third party.). However, the court therein acknowledged that ‘[t]he reasoning employed in Townsend casts doubt on the continued applicability of Scarborough.’ Id. at 31, n. 10.”
We view this decision as highly positive for our clients. Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, represents captains, pilots, deckhands, engineers, and cooks who serve aboard towboats, barges, and other commercial vessels, as well as longshore and harbor workers, who are seriously injured or killed on the job. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” feel free to contact us at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.