Eastern District of New York Awards Injured Seaman $1.7 Million under Jones Act
In Frederick J. Harrington, Jr. v. Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. et al., the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York awarded Frederick Harrington $1,728,948 under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C § 30104, for injuries sustained as a result of the defendants' negligence while he was employed as a seaman aboard the defendant vessel MV CANDACE.
Prior to the accident, the plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old with only a high school education. Over the course of his work history, plaintiff served as a hull technician in the United States Navy and had held several civilian maritime positions. Prior to plaintiff's injury, he had received exemplary reviews from all of his supervisors and was able to do any task assigned to him with no physical limitations. Additionally, immediately prior to joining Weeks Marine Inc., the plaintiff had obtained his Merchant Marine License, which required passing an extended series of tests as well as obtaining letters of recommendation from past employers.
On April 10, 2005, the crew of the CANDACE was tasked with moving an underwater pipeline, submerged off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Prior to moving the pipeline, the CANDACE was first required to lift the anchor that was attached to either end of the pipeline. This required the crew engaging in a process called "anchor pulling." In order to lift the anchor, a tugboat is required to position itself near a buoy, floating on the surface of the water, which is connected by a pennant wire to the anchor on the floor of the ocean. Once the boat is in position, one of the seamen approaches the edge of the boat and uses a boat hook to capture the pennant wire. The seaman who captures the pennant wire then pulls the wire onto the boat, where the eyelet can be connected to the boat's trip hook. The boat's towing winch is then used to reel in the pennant wire, thereby lifting the pipeline anchor off the ocean's floor.
Plaintiff was tasked with pulling the anchors, despite the fact that the plaintiff and his fellow crewmembers had no experience pulling anchors attached to floating pipelines and had not received any instruction or training on how to perform the job safely. Plaintiff's injury was caused when the plaintiff caught hold of the pennant wire. The boat moved out of position, causing the pennant wire to go taut, which twisted the plaintiff's back, causing his injury. The plaintiff's doctor diagnosed plaintiff with having a herniated lumbar disc and right foot drop that was a result of a severely compressed nerve in plaintiff's lower back. Plaintiff underwent surgery and attended physical therapy. However, his doctor found that he was unable to sit or stand for longer than thirty (30) minutes at a time and was unable to lift, push or pull anything greater than twenty (20) pounds.
In order to recover under the Jones Act, a plaintiff must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence (1) that at the time of his injury, he was acting in the course of his employment as a member of the vessel's crew; (2) that the defendant was negligent; and (3) that the negligent act caused the plaintiff's injury. Under the Jones Act, an employer is liable to its employee if the employer's negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which damages are sought.
The Court found that the plaintiff sustained his burden of proof, establishing that defendants breached their duty of care to plaintiff through their negligent operation and handling of the CANDACE and that such negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries. Further, because Weeks Maritime Inc. did not provide any instruction or training to its crew as to how best to perform the task of anchor pulling, or outline the risks associated with anchor pulling, the plaintiff was able to prove that the CANDACE was unseaworthy while plaintiff was engaged in line-anchor pulling. As a result, Judge Gershon awarded the plaintiff $478,948 in lost wages, $500,000 for past pain and suffering, and $700,000 for future pain and suffering.
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