Toy boxes, tool boxes, and even kitchen cabinets have mechanisms to keep them from slamming shut. The technology is in common use and it prevents the very serious injuries that can result when a heavy lid slams shut on someone’s head, hand or other vulnerable parts of the body.
But the owners of some commercial fishing vessels do not see the need to add stopping mechanisms to protect the mariners who work for them. Unsecured hatch covers can and do cause serious harm to these maritime workers. However, injured workers can often make a legal claim that the owners had an obligation to provide the right safety equipment, and that they should be held liable for the injuries that result from the lack of a stopper or similar mechanism.
Recovery for Injured Fisherman
We recently obtained a $3 million settlement for a commercial fisherman injured in this type of situation. The victim had fished for several years and was working on a scallop vessel at the time of his accident.
In order to access the fish hold on the vessel, workers had to open a hatch with two hatch covers, a large and a small. The large hatch cover could be lifted off and would be taken off at the end of the trip for unloading scallops. The small hatch cover was used to access the fish hold during the trip and was secured to the large hatch cover by hinges with a stopper on the top of the hatch cover. When the small hatch cover opened past 90 degrees, the small hatch cover would fall back onto the stopper and would rest on the large hatch cover at an angle of just over 130 degrees.
There was no safety mechanism to prevent the small hatch cover from slamming back down into the closed position when open. The victim was injured when he was leaning over the open hatch cover to retrieve a bag of scallops. The small hatch cover smashed down on his head, causing a traumatic brain injury.
As his attorneys, we argued that the lack of a mechanism to keep the hatch cover from inadvertently slamming down made the vessel unseaworthy and demonstrated negligence. We also argued that the operator was negligent in allowing a tool box and tools to be left on the large hatch cover because these materials could get caught and increase the likelihood that the small hinged cover would accidentally close. It is standard in the industry for hinged covers to be latched to guard against accidental closing.
The victim suffered a traumatic brain injury, post and persistent concussion syndrome, and was diagnosed with bipolar, psychotic disorder and personality changes caused by traumatic brain injury.
Six and half years after the accident, the victim had still not returned to any type of work. He presented a claim for lost wages and future medical costs.
The owner of the vessel tried to argue that the victim pulled the hatch cover down on himself or that he tripped and fell into the hatch cover causing it to slam down. They also claimed that the victim faked the extent of his injuries.
During the case, the owner’s legal counsel conducted depositions of all the victim’s family members, girlfriends, ex-wife, and treating physicians. They hired numerous medical and liability experts.
However, we were able to prevail. The judge denied their motions for summary judgment and exclusion of experts. After two mediation sessions held a year apart, they finally offered a $3 million settlement to meet our client’s needs and provide for his losses.
Latti & Anderson Helps Mariners Injured by Lack of Proper Safety Equipment
Working as a commercial fisherman or a merchant mariner doesn’t mean that workers have to assume the risk of injury when injuries could be prevented with basic safety equipment. Vessel owners have an obligation to at least meet industry standards for safety.
The team at Latti & Anderson LLP is dedicated to protecting the rights of those injured at sea. If the lack of safety equipment or other negligence caused injuries to you or a loved one, contact us to learn more about the ways we can assist.