Sosa vs. M/V Lago Izabal
$25,843,903 was awarded to a 27-year-old Mexican seaman earning $8,224 annually after he received serious burns aboard the defendant’s freighter when the engine exploded.
The plaintiff was employed by Defendant Tracey Navigation, a shipping company based in the Cayman Islands, and worked in the position of Oiler aboard the defendant’s vessel, monitoring the engine room machines for proper functioning. Three months after plaintiff was hired to work, the vessel’s engine exploded as the ship attempted to dock in Texas. Diesel fuel spilled over plaintiff and ignited. He sustained second and third degree burns over 80% of his body, resulting in severe scarring, loss of use of the hands, which are frozen in a claw-like position, vision and hearing impairment, sexual dysfunction, and totally disabling psychiatric injuries. The defendant paid $190,000 for plaintiff’s medical expenses prior to trial.
The plaintiff brought suit against the vessel and shipping company under general maritime law alleging that the vessel was rendered unseaworthy by the unsafe condition of the engine. Evidence revealed that on the vessel’s last voyage the engine had broken down and caught fire twice. The captain had ordered the ship to sail before requested replacement parts for the engine were procured. The plaintiff contended that the defendant shipping company knew that the ship’s engine was not functioning properly and needed repairs and that periodic maintenance of the vessel’s machinery had not been performed.
The defendant challenged the court’s jurisdiction on the grounds that the Suit involved a Mexican national suing a Grand Cayman corporation whose vessel used Mexico as its homeport. The federal district court rules that U.S. jurisdiction over plaintiff’s action is proper. Despite the vessel’s registration and the shipping company’s claims that it was based in a foreign nation, the court finds that defendant’s real base of operations for the management of the vessel was in Houston, Texas: the vessel regularly loaded cargo in Houston; employees salaries were paid through a Houston bank; and 90% of the shareholders of the shipping company were U.S. residents.
The court states that the vessel was unseaworthy due to the explosion of its engine while in normal use. The defendant shipping company, having had knowledge of the vessel’s engine problems prior to the commencement of the voyage during which the engine exploded, was held liable for the bench award of $25,843,903 to the plaintiff. $10 million of the award was allocated to plaintiff’s pain and suffering, and $10.9 million went toward plaintiff’s future annual expenses including round-the-clock nursing care.
Verdict for Plaintiff: $25,843,903.00