BENCH TRIAL IN LIMITATION PROCEEDING FOUND IN FAVOR OF ESTATE OF DECEASED SEAFARER WHO DIED IN TRAGIC CRUSHING ACCIDENT.
In the Matter of the Complaint of MORAN TOWING CORPORATION, as Owner and Operator of the Tug Turecamo Girls, for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, Petitioner.
2013 WL 6068454 United States District Court, S.D. New York.
No. 10 Civ. 4844. | Nov. 18, 2013.
Tug owner filed petition for exoneration from or limitation of liability arising out of tragic crushing death of deckhand while he was entrapped in capstan of tug by towline under great pressure during improperly conducted swing maneuver. Administrator of deckhand’s estate subsequently brought Jones Act and general maritime law action for negligence. The matter proceeded to Bench Trial.
Petition for exoneration filed by the Moran Towing Corporation and a Jones Act and general maritime law action for negligence filed by claimant Avril Young arise out of the crushing death of Ricardo Young, a deckhand who was entrapped in the capstan of a Moran tug, by a towline under great pressure during an improperly conducted swing maneuver. Young’s death was not the result of navigational errors or one time negligence, as Moran posits, but a consequence of Moran’s failure to ensure adequate procedures for handling a line under strain, which had been documented as potentially fatally dangerous. 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. Accidents involving the capstan and line-handling were foreseeable. Moran had knowledge of at least seven incidents prior to Young’s death where its employees were injured during capstan operations. Despite this knowledge, and despite safety requirements, Moran did not issue any Port Advisory or change in any way its policies or procedures for how line-handling tasks, including the swing maneuver, were conducted. Moran had the authority and control over the equipment of the Tug to create a safer working environment, but had not done so at the time of Young’s death. On other tugs, including those owned by Moran, the distance between the capstan controller and the capstan was significantly more than 36 inches, averaging up to six or seven feet away, which created a safe space for deckhands to operate in. On the Tug, in contrast, the controller location forced Young to work in close proximity to the capstan, even when tying or untying the towline off the h-bitt, placing him dangerously near the nip point, where he was ultimately ensnared. Moran’s failure to place its equipment appropriately thus also directly contributed to Young’s death. Because of Moran’s deficiencies as found above, the Tug was rendered unseaworthy and Moran found strictly liable under general maritime law for Young’s death and the resulting damages. The Court found that under General Maritime Law Unseaworthiness was established and negligence was established, and that Limitation of Liability was not established. Upon all the prior proceedings and the facts and conclusions of law set forth below, judgment was entered on behalf of Avril Young.
Following bench trial, the District Court held that tug was unseaworthy; owner was directly liable under Jones Act; owner was subject to vicarious liability under Jones Act; limitation of liability was inappropriate; award of damages in amount of $750,000 for conscious pain and suffering was appropriate; but award of punitive damages was inappropriate.