Injured Seaman Awarded $1.7 Million Under Jones Act

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Accidents onboard cargo vessels, cruise ships, barges or even in port can lead to disastrous injuries for workers. Unfortunately, the majority of these incidents are the direct result of someone’s negligence. While crewmembers aren’t always compensated for their pain and suffering at the hands of someone’s wrongdoing, one injured seaman has obtained justice for an accident suffered while at work.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York has awarded Frederick Harrington $1,728,948 under the Jones Act for injuries sustained as a result of his employer, Weeks Marine Inc. and its affiliate Atlantic Sounding Co.’s negligence.

Harrington was injured while employed as a seaman aboard the defendant’s vessel MV CANDACE. Prior to being involved in the maritime accident, Harrington, 52, who only had a high school education, served as a hull technician in the United States Navy and had held several civilian maritime positions. He had consistently received exemplary reviews from all of his supervisors and had never suffered any physical limitations that would prevent him from completing his assigned tasks. Immediately before joining Weeks Marine Inc., Harrington had obtained his Merchant Marine License, which could only be obtained by passing a series of tests and through high recommendation from past employers. Little did he know his life and the work he enjoyed so much would soon forever change.

The accident in question dates back to April 10, 2005, when the crew of the CANDACE was charged with moving an underwater pipeline, submerged off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Before moving the pipeline, the CANDACE was first required to lift the anchor that was attached to each end of the pipeline, which would require the crew to engaging in a process called “anchor pulling.”

The process is complex and involves positioning a tugboat near a buoy connected by a pennant wire to the anchor. Once the boat is in position, one of the seamen must approach the edge of the boat and use a boat hook to capture the wire and pull it onto the boat, where the eyelet can be connected to the vessel’s trip hook. Then, the vessel’s towing winch is used to reel the pennant wire in, lifting the anchor off the ocean’s floor.

Great skill and precision are involved in this task, which was what the plaintiff was charged with doing. However, neither Harrington nor his fellow crewmembers had any prior experience pulling anchors attached to floating pipelines, nor had they received any training on how to perform the job safely.

When Harrington caught hold of the pennant wire, the boat moved out of position, causing the pennant wire to go taut and leading him to twist his back. Harrington was later diagnosed with having a herniated lumbar disc and right foot drop that resulted from a severely compressed nerve in his lower back.

Harrington underwent surgery and physical therapy for the injuries, but according to his doctor, was unable to sit or stand for longer than thirty 30 minutes at a time. Moreover, he was unable to lift, push or pull anything greater than twenty 20 pounds, which his seafaring job would require, thereby being unable to perform his duties or keep his job.

Under the Jones Act, a federal law that protects seafarers and allows them to recover damages following an injury caused by their employer’s negligence, Harrington was able to obtain compensation by establishing the accident was caused by his employer’s negligence.

In order for an injured seaman to recover damages under the Jones Act, several factors must be established:

(1) That at the time of the injury, the seafarer was acting in the course of his employment as a member of the vessel’s crew.
(2) That the defendant committed an act of negligence.
(3) That the negligent act caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Under the Jones Act, an employer is liable to pay damages to its employee if their negligence played any part, even the slightest, in leading to an injury or death.
In this case, the Court found that Harrington successfully established that the defendants breached their duty of providing a safe environment for workers through their negligent operation and handling of the CANDACE, and that such negligence caused Harrington’s injuries.

Additionally, because Weeks Maritime Inc. did not provide any training to its crewmembers on how to best perform the task of anchor pulling, or outline the risks associated with this task, Harrington was able to prove that the CANDACE was unseaworthy while he was engaged in the anchor pulling.

As a result, the plaintiff was awarded a total of $478,948 in lost wages, $500,000 for past pain and suffering and $700,000 for future pain and suffering.

This is just one of the many cases that involve seamen getting hurt while in the care of their employer. Our seafarer claims attorneys can help crewmembers obtain justice for injuries suffered at the hands of a negligent employer. Call us today to discuss your options in filing a claim if you or a loved one were hurt in a similar accident so we can protect your rights.

Photo Credit:

MV CANDACE – maritime-executive.com