$4,500,000 – Second and Third Degree Burns
Amount – $4,500,000
TRIAL REPORT FORMS
Type of Action: Admiralty/Maritime law
Injuries Alleged: 60% 2nd and 3rd degree burns to legs, back, trunk and arms
Name of case: Withheld
Tried before judge or jury (or mediation): Settled
Amount(specify award or settlement): $4,500,000.00
Date (of verdict or settlement): September 20, 2007
Attorney for defendant(s) and city of office: Withheld
Lawyers for burned ‘seawoman’ find pain and suffering is hard to prove
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
October 29, 2007
By Barbara Rabinovitz
Plaintiff, 24 years old, was employed by the Defendant as a third assistant engineer on a containership. As third assistant engineer, Plaintiff was the lowest ranking licensed officer in the engine room.
Pursuant to standing orders, the third assistant engineer was to perform weekly safety checks of the bilge alarms located within the lower centerline pipe tunnel and make periodic checks of the port and starboard escape trunks. The centerline pipe tunnel is long straight tunnel approximately 500 feet that runs down the length of the vessel. At the forward end, the pipe tunnel branches into a T where on each side there is a starboard escape trunk and port escape trunk. To enter the starboard escape trunk from the pipe tunnel, one turns to the right and walks outboard down a short tunnel until one reaches an approximately 4 foot ladder that leads up and through an approximately 18” combing which is secured with a water tight hatch cover. Once through this hatch one enters a compartment which contains unlagged (not insulated) steam and condensate lines and the hydraulic piping.
On August 5, 2005, Plaintiff entered the lower pipe tunnel to perform her weekly safety checks. Plaintiff descended the ladder from the engine room, tested the aft bilge alarm, walked the length of the pipe tunnel, checked the port side escape trunk, tested the forward bilge alarm and then proceeded to climb up the ladder to the starboard escape trunk. With both hands on the top of the ladder, she reached with her hand to put her fingers over the top of the combing and saw a sheet of water coming. She turned her head trying to escape. The water came down over her shoulder and her right arm which was still holding onto the ladder. Plaintiff felt excruciating pain as she realized that she was “pretty much being boiled alive.” The water rolled down her front, got absorbed into her clothing and hit her legs. Plaintiff then got hit with a second wave of water which scalded her legs, back and right arm. Plaintiff fearing she would die in the pipe tunnel was able to go back through the entire length of the pipe tunnel as her skin was peeling off of her, climb a 15 foot ladder and seek help in the engine room. Plaintiff was airlifted off the vessel 12 hours later and was flown to the United States approximately 2 days later.
Upon arrival at Massachusetts General Hospital, Plaintiff was diagnosed with 60% TBA of steam and hot water burns with second-degree intermittent depth and third-degree burns over her body except her face. Plaintiff was in a medically induced coma for over a month. Since the accident, Plaintiff has undergone seven surgeries, including skin grafts, debridement, injections and extensive physical and occupational therapy.
Liability in this case focused on both the negligence of Defendant and unseaworthiness of the vessel. Plaintiff alleged that water accumulating in the starboard escape hatch compartment, being heated up past boiling point due to unlagged piping was unseaworthiness. The unlagged piping, the boiling water, the accumulation of water in the starboard escape trunk area were all unseaworthy conditions.
Additionally, Plaintiff alleged that leaking steam and condensate pipes in the starboard escape hatch area was also an unseaworthy condition. Furthermore, Plaintiff claimed that holes that were found after the accident on the side of the vessel which caused water to flow into the compartment above the starboard escape hatch and then flow down and collect in the starboard escape hatch was an unseaworthy condition. In regards to negligence, based on deposition testimony from crew members, Plaintiff further alleged that the Defendant was aware that hot water was accumulating in the starboard escape trunk and that the Defendant should have taken measures to find out the source of the water and permanently fix it. The failure to do so was negligence.
Plaintiff was unable to return to sea as a merchant seaman. However, within a year and a half after the accident, Plaintiff had obtained a job earning a comparable salary to that at sea. Plaintiff had a remarkable recovery and she has few physical limitations. Due to her burns, Plaintiff has limited ability to sweat and has to be in an air conditioned environment to avoid heat stroke and exhaustion. Additionally, Plaintiff has to wear long sleeve shirt and pants at all times in order to avoid sun exposure.
The case settled after two mediations and 4 days before trial.