Published: April 29, 2016
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In Keeney v. Ingram Barge Company, 2016 WL 1660398 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 27, 2016), a federal district judge in Nashville denied Ingram Barge Company’s motion to dismiss the Jones Act negligence and general maritime law unseaworthiness claims in the lawsuit brought by Chase Keeney, an experienced deckhand aboard its harbor towboat, the M/V WILLARD HAMMOND. Keeney claimed he had seriously injured his back, and had to undergo back surgery, because he was forced to work alone while building tow, specifically carrying ratchets and jerking wires.
Keeney worked the 12-hour day shift on Ingram’s harbor boat. He conceded there was nothing wrong with the barge on which he was working, the towboat itself, or any of the wires or ratchets with which he was required to work. Rather, Keeney claimed Ingram was at fault because he was forced to perform the heavy manual labor of a deckhand unassisted, because the other deckhand on his watch often would not help him, the company knew this, but did nothing about it.
Keeney’s claims were supported by an expert, Donald J. Green, who opined “the cause of this accident was negligence on the part of the defendants, Ingram Barge Company, for failure to provide Mr. Chase Keeney a safe workplace free from hazards. Reportedly, Mr. Keeney was required to perform repetitive heavy lifting and jerking ratchets to take out slack in ‘laying a wire’ without assistance. These are functions that are typically performed by two persons working together when making tow or securing barges in a tow. Mr. Keeney repeatedly handled heavy rigging wires and ratchets without sufficient assistance. Had another deckhand been available to help Mr. Keeney it is likely that he, Mr. Keeney, would not have had to repetitively strain laying wires making up tows, and it is more likely than not that this incident could have been avoided.” Green added, “Ingram Barge Company failed to provide proper supervision or instruction to Mr. Keeney regarding safe procedures for transferring rigging wires from barges to tow boats and other barges” and “[r]equiring or allowing Mr. Keeney to work alone deploying or laying wires without assistance more than likely caused his injuries.”
Keeney testified at his deposition that “I was doing the job of two men by myself a lot of the times where it takes two people to pull up a wire and strap it in, I was doing it all by myself.”
The Court found that while the wire and ratchet work Keeney was performing can be done by one man, “it does appear that, if not mandated, it was at least preferable to have two men laying wire.” The Court also found it significant that Keeney had testified at deposition that before his accident he had reported to the captain of his towboat the fact his fellow deckhand, whom Ingram ultimately terminated due to his work habits, was routinely not helping him.
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, regularly brings personal injury lawsuits for negligence under the Jones Act and, under the general maritime law, for negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure, on behalf of commercial vessel crewmembers and their families. If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights under admiralty and maritime law, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or email@example.com. Our website is www.golawllc.com. While we practice primarily in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, we will also consider taking cases anywhere in the U.S.
Published: December 28, 2015
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In Collins v. A.B.C. Marine Towing, L.L.C. and Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans, 2015 WL 9257862 (E.D. La. Dec. 18, 2015), a Louisiana federal court reconsidered its prior decision and denied the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans’ motion to dismiss punitive damages claims against it. The case grew out of the accident which occurred when a tug, operated by ABC Marine, towing a deck barge owned by Boh Bros. Construction Co., was transiting the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal in Orleans Parish, Louisiana. Aboard the barge was a large crane. Around midnight on August 13, 2014, the mast of the crane struck the Florida Avenue lift bridge, which had not been raised to its highest position. The crane boom then fell atop the tug’s pilothouse, killing tug captain, Michael Collins, and seriously damaging the crane barge.While the Bridge’s Operator Manual required the bridge to be opened to its fullest extent for each opening, the Court found “several bridge tenders testified that they did not review any operating or policy manuals as part of their bridge tender training.”
The lift bridge also suffered from mechanical problems before the accident, leading bridge tenders to deviate from the Operator’s Manual and not fully open the bridge for each opening. Instead, the bridge tenders were trained to only raise the bridge several feet above the height requested by each passing vessel. On the night of the accident, the bridge tender claimed she raised the bridge four feet higher than that requested by Captain Collins. But this was not high enough.
Why did the Court change its position? Boh Bros., owner of the crane barge, showed the Court video which revealed the Board’s bridge tenders, even after this fatal accident, continued to fail to raise the bridge to its fullest extent. The Court also referenced a federal law, specifically a Coast Guard bridge operation regulation found at 33 C.F.R. § 117.5, which also required the Board to “fully open” the bridge every time (“[e]xcept as otherwise authorized or required by this part, drawbridges must open promptly and fully for the passage of vessels when a request or signal to open is given in accordance with this subpart.”).
The Court concluded:
“Therefore, notwithstanding the fatal tragedy that is the basis of this case, the video footage demonstrates that the Board continues to disregard the mandate of 33 C.F.R. § 117.5. The Court appreciates the Board’s argument that this video footage is inapposite because it was taken on a day when the Bridge was undergoing electrical repairs. However, the Court notes that any conclusions it might draw from this video footage would be based on material facts in dispute. In other words, whether or not this evidence confirms that the Board had in the past and continues to act with reckless conduct and callous disregard for life and property sufficient to justify an award of punitive damages is not an issue that can be determined summarily at this time in view of their arguably continuing practice. Rather, this new evidence, particularly taken together with the genuine issues of material fact discussed in the October 14 Order & Reasons, introduces a new fact issue that must be decided at trial.”
The Court had previously decided that punitive damages were available under the general maritime law in this case, and denied a defense motion to dismiss them as a matter of law.
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, regularly brings personal injury lawsuits for negligence under the Jones Act and, under the general maritime law, for negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure, on behalf of commercial vessel crewmembers and their families. If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights under admiralty and maritime law, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is www.golawllc.com. While we practice primarily in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, we will also consider taking cases anywhere on the U.S. inland waterways.
Published: June 23, 2015
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In Paster v. Ingram Barge Company, 2015 WL 3680700 (E.D. La. June 12, 2015), deckhand Tommy Paster sued Ingram, his employer and the owner/operator of the towboat, the M/V O.A. FRANKS, alleging he seriously injured his back while standing on the edge of a barge and using a three to four-foot pole with a hook attached to it to grab equipment from the deck of the towboat located several feet below. After hooking the equipment, Paster was able to pull it up to the barge, unassisted. And while he was able to work the rest of the day, Paster claims the next day he awoke with pain radiating from his back down his leg — classic signs of a vertebral disc injury. When he was lifting the equipment the day before, Paster claims he felt a “twinge” in his back. Paster’s attorney made claims against Ingram in a federal court lawsuit under the Jones Act, for negligence, and under the general maritime law, for unseaworthiness.
Paster’s lawyer hired a liability expert, Robert E. “Bob” Borison, to opine on the cause of Paster’s accident. In his report, Borison attributed the accident to, among other things, Ingram’s failure to have conducted essentially a job hazard analysis of the lifting operation in question, and failure to have properly trained Paster on proper lifting techniques in these circumstances. The Court (U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance) summarized Borison’s three principal opinions as follows:
“Taken together, Borison’s expert testimony seeks to establish that (1) plaintiff’s work assignment required him to assume an unsafe lifting position, thereby causing his injury, (2) a reasonably competent safety professional would have assigned more manpower or mechanical power to assist plaintiff with the lift, and (3) defendant failed to adequately train plaintiff on proper lifting techniques under the circumstances.”
Ingram filed a pre-trial motion to strike Borison as an expert, to keep the jury from hearing his testimony. Ingram argued Borison’s opinions were based on insufficient facts, misleading, and would not be helpful to the jury. Ingram did not attack Borison’s qualifications, just his opinions.
In addressing Ingram’s motion, Judge Vance first ruled that “Borison’s proposed testimony is not within the scope of a layman’s common experience. Contrary to the defendant’s assertions, Borison’s testimony is not simply that ‘someone should not lift something that is too big or too awkward for them to handle.’ Instead, Borison evaluates the specific posture plaintiff allegedly assumed, and opines that defendant failed to provide the necessary manpower or mechanical assistance to allow plaintiff to make the lift safely. Borison is undoubtedly more familiar with the tools plaintiff was using, the equipment plaintiff was lifting, and the safety risks associated with working on barges than the average layperson. Moreover, as an instructor ‘in the proper method of manual material handling,’ Borison is qualified to opine about the appropriate or customary level of training in the maritime industry.” So, the Court found that, “Borison’s experience and specialized knowledge regarding maritime safety and industry custom will assist the trier of fact in determining whether [Ingram’s] conduct fell beneath the applicable standard of care in this case.”
Judge Vance was also unpersuaded by Ingram’s argument that Borison’s opinions were misleading or factually deficient. As to Ingram’s criticism of Borison’s report insofar as it, in Ingram’s counsel’s words, “creates negligent-sounding section titles that imply Ingram did something wrong, and then declines to identify how Ingram actually merited his condemnation or discusses something entirely different …,” the Court found Borison’s report’s section titles were not evidence and the defendant’s argument “exalts form over substance and erroneously focuses on Borison’s section headings and typeface rather than on the content of Borison’s report.” Judge Vance noted that Borison had written in his report that Ingram had caused plaintiff to assume an unsafe lifting position, failed to allocate sufficient resources to allow plaintiff to make the lift safely, and failed to adequately train plaintiff.”
Finally, in ruling that Borison would be permitted to testify before the jury as to each of the opinions appearing in his report, Judge Vance wrote:
“Although the Court agrees that Borison’s report is not the model of clarity, defendant’s cavils about Borison’s headings do not render Borison’s underlying opinions inadmissible. Moreover, Borison states that he bases his opinions on an interview with plaintiff, defendant’s records, and thirty years of experience in the industry. To the extent defendant disputes the underlying facts or disagrees with Borison’s interpretation of those facts, defendant may cross-examine Borison at trial.”
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, regularly brings lawsuits for negligence under the Jones Act and unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure under the general maritime law on behalf of commercial vessel crewmembers, both men and women, such as deckhands, mates, cooks, engineers, pilots, and captains, and we regularly hire liability experts to assist the jury’s understanding of how and why our clients’ accidents occurred. If you have questions about this court opinion, or your or your family’s legal rights under admiralty and maritime law, contact us for a free consultation at 877-404-6529, 412-281-4340, or email@example.com. Our website is www.golawllc.com. We practice primarily in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, but also all over the inland waterways.
Published: April 10, 2015
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In In re Complaint of McAllister Towing & Transp. Co., Inc., 2015 WL 1515369 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2015), the tug owner, McAllister, filed suit under the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act and later sought to dismiss on motion for summary judgment the claims brought by the survivors of the captain of its tug, the A.J. McALLISTER. The tug’s captain, Edward Cornelius, was last seen alive aboard the tug at 0922. Just seven minutes later, dock surveillance video showed him floating lifeless in the water.
McAllister, the tug owner, argued Captain Cornelius likely had a heart attack and tumbled into the water afterwards, and thus that his death could not be its fault. Cornelius’ survivors, however, argued the captain may have slipped while climbing from the tug to the pier, an accident they argued could have been avoided had the tug owner provided a proper gangway.
More facts: On the morning of the accident, Captain Cornelius told another crewmember he was going to have coffee, read a paper, then go ashore to his truck to get some paint. The evidence supported that the captain, in fact, did have coffee and read the paper on the tug. Then he was captured on video surveillance footage at 0922 facing in the direction of the port side of the tug, which side was tied to the pier, appearing as though he were going to debark. At 0923, he was not in view of the pier surveillance camera on the boat or at the pier. The captain was not seen again until 0929, when pier surveillance video showed his lifeless body floating in the water, two feet from the tug.
The Court found that, like the majority of McAllister’s tugs, the A.J. McALLISTER did not have a gangway, or any means of exiting the boat that was enclosed on both sides, to get to the pier. So, to exit the boat, the Court noted, a crewmember would have to walk up a three-step stool on the tug, then step onto the cap rail — a raised metal surface on the boat that was sloped downward from bow to stern and had a “little bubble” on part of its surface, then possibly step onto the pier fendering system, to which the tug was not tied tightly, then step onto the concrete of the pier.
The Court described how the fendering system at the New Bedford, Massachusetts, pier where the tug was moored had boards that suffered from heavy wear and tear and draped over them were the lines used to moor the tug. There was also a strong wind between 25 and 30 miles per hour the morning of the captain’s death. Also, there were no handrails for support during this exiting process. Captain Cornelius was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident, and he was known to be a safe and outstanding captain.
The Court concluded this factual record presented sufficient issues to require the case to be tried and denied the tug owner’s motion for summary judgment as to both the survivors’ Jones Act negligence and general maritime law unseaworthiness claims.
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, represents crewmen (including cooks, engineers, mates, deckhands, pilots, and captains) of towboats, tugs, barges, and other commercial vessels, and passengers aboard cruise and excursion boats and ships, in personal injury and wrongful death claims. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act, the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” or the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act, feel free to contact Fred Goldsmith or Rich Ogrodowski toll-free at 877-404-6529 or 412-281-4340. Our website is http://www.golawllc.com. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We practice primarily in PA, WV, and OH, but also all over the inland waterways.
Published: October 17, 2014
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
The federal case of Crosby Marine Transp., LLC v. Triton Diving Servs., LLC, CIV. 13-2399, 2014 WL 5026070 (W.D. La. Oct. 8, 2014) arises out of accident which occurred in May 2013, in which a tug, the M/V CROSBY MARINER, and another Crosby Marine Transportation-owned tug, the M/V CROSBY EXPRESS, were moving a barge in Bayou Chene near Amelia, Louisiana. The CROSBY EXPRESS was the lead tug that was towing the barge, while the CROSBY MARINER had the barge on its hip to stabilize the barge during transit. Both tugs were manned by captains, but all passing arrangements and decisions about the speed of the tow and navigation came from the captain of the lead tug, the CROSBY EXPRESS.
Mark Rottinghaus, a Crosby Tugs, L.L.C. employee and crewman aboard the M/V CROSBY MARINER, was injured when the M/V TRITON ACHIEVER, a vessel owned and operated by another company, collided with the CROSBY MARINER.
Crosby Marine Transportation, L.L.C., as owner of the M/V CROSBY MARINER, and Crosby Tugs, L.L.C., as owner pro hac vice of the M/V CROSBY MARINER, filed a Verified Complaint for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, pursuant to Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims and the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act, seeking to be exonerated or alternatively to limit its liability to the value of the tug, with pending freight, upon which Rottinghaus was serving. Simultaneously with the filing of its complaint, Crosby filed an Ad Interim Stipulation and posted security only in the amount of its interest in the M/V CROSBY MARINER and pending freight together with interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of the stipulation and for costs.
Rottinghaus then filed a motion under Supplemental Rule F(7) asking the federal judge to order Crosby to increase its filed security to include the value of the other Crosby tug, the CROSBY EXPRESS. Rottinghaus cited the “Flotilla Doctrine.” Under this Doctrine, where vessels involved in a casualty are (i) commonly-owned, (ii) engaged in a common enterprise, and (iii) under a single command, the court may order that all vessels in the flotilla, or their value, together with pending freight, be tendered to the court as security for claimants when the vessel owner files for court protection under the federal Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act.
Rule F(7), entitled “Insufficiency of Fund or Security,” states:
“Any claimant may by motion demand that the funds deposited in court or the security given by the plaintiff be increased on the ground that they are less than the value of the plaintiff’s interest in the vessel and pending freight. Thereupon the court shall cause due appraisement to be made of the value of the plaintiff’s interest in the vessel and pending freight; and if the court finds that the deposit or security is either insufficient or excessive it shall order its increase or reduction. In like manner any claimant may demand that the deposit or security be increased on the ground that it is insufficient to carry out the provisions of the statutes relating to claims in respect of loss of life or bodily injury; and, after notice and hearing, the court may similarly order that the deposit or security be increased or reduced.”
The purpose of Rule F(7), the Court found, “is to ensure that the plaintiff-in-limitation is not permitted to submit an inadequate bond with impunity and that the claimant may not contend that the bond should be higher than the actual value of the vessel.”
The Court agreed with Rottinghaus and granted his motion under Rule F(7) to increase security. It ordered that a court-appointed expert appraise the value of both the second tug, the M/V CROSBY EXPRESS, along with the CROSBY MARINER, or, alternatively, that the parties file a stipulation — or written agreement, as to the value of both tugs along with their pending freight, as the Limitation Act and Rule F require.
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Our law firm, Goldsmith & Ogrodowski, LLC, regularly represents crewmen (including cooks, engineers, mates, deckhands, pilots, and captains) of towboats, tugs, barges, and other commercial vessels, and passengers aboard cruise and excursion boats and ships. If you have questions about your or your family’s legal rights under the Jones Act, the general maritime law, also known as “admiralty law,” or the Vessel Owners’ Limitation of Liability Act, feel free to contact Fred Goldsmith or Rich Ogrodowski toll-free at 877-404-6529 (toll-free), 412-281-4340, or email@example.com. Our website is http://www.golawllc.com. We practice primarily in PA, WV, and OH, but also all over the inland waterways.