Seaman’s family awarded $6 million

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

By David Lyons
The Miami Herald

The family of a Danish seaman who was killed aboard a SeaEscape cruise ship was awarded $6.1 million in damages Friday by a jury in Jacksonville.

Kim Andersen, 23, was one of four men killed in November 1986 after they were overcome by poisonous gas in a sewage-processing tank aboard the Scandinavian Sky. The liner, which is operated by Miami-based SeaEscape Ltd., was in dry dock in Jacksonville at the time of the accident.

Morris Gilbert and Angel Bati, both Hondurans, and William Ta-jan, a Filipino, also died when they, along with Andersen, tried to fix a valve and deadly hydrogen sulfide gas was released.

“No one had any expertise to work on it,” said Miami lawyer Brett Rivkind, who tried the case with his partner, Charles Lipcon. “We claimed it was just reckless not to know the dangers of the poisonous gases.”

The Andersen family filed their wrongful death suit against Nassau-based Sky Cruises Ltd., the ship’s owner, in Dade Circuit Court. But the case was transferred with two others to Duval County, where the men died. The other two suits were settled out of court.

Jacksonville lawyers James Mosley and Thomas Sullivan argued that the accident was unavoidable. They called in an expert who testified that the tank conformed with government regulations. They asked the jury not to award any more than $50,000. But Rivkind cited a Coast Guard report that the tank was not certified by U.S. authorities. He accused the ship’s operators of using the processing tank as a holding tank, which allowed the buildup of gases.

Andersen’s parents, Lief and Everlin, and his twin sister, Mette, attended the trial. Rivkind said they wanted to give most of the money to a seaman’s charity. Of the award, $6 million was for punitive damages. The remaining $100,000 was for Andersen’s pain and suffering before he died.

A medical examiner testified that Andersen lived for 10-15 seconds after being exposed to the hydrogen sulfide, which is more potent than cyanide.

Duval Circuit Judge Mattox Hair ruled that the family could not recover any money for pain and anguish over the loss of Kim.