By Nancy Drucker
August 9, 1985
A federal judge in Boston awarded nearly $1.7 million Thursday to a Somerville fisherman and his family for injuries caused at sea by a 47-year-old winch made by the Hathaway Machinery Co. in Fairhaven.
Boston attorney Michael B. Latti, who represents Domenic Tringali, believes this case is the first of its kind. Although product liability cases are common, Latti believes this is the first successful case against a winch manufacturer.
“It establishes a responsibility on people who make winches,” especially in the areas cited in Tringali’s lawsuit, he said.
Tringali, 51, of Somerville, a fisherman for 32 years, his wife and four children were awarded the money for an incident on May 13, 1982.
Tringali’s leg was mangled by a winch on the Boston trawler Domenic T, and his leg was partially amputated when he arrived at the hospital. The winch was manufactured by Hathaway in 1938, then overhauled and installed on the Domenic T in 1967, according to court documents.
Tringali sued Hathaway, claiming the company failed to install a guard over the port winch head shaft, that the shutoff switch was hard to reach in emergencies, and that the company failed to warn him of the defects.
U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro agreed, and awarded Tringali and family $1.2 million plus 12 percent annual interest from May 24, 1982, to Thursday. Because the boat sailed with a defective winch, the judge found owner Boat Domenic T. Inc. of Boston, whose sole shareholder was Tringali’s wife, to be minimally responsible, and charged it 5 percent of the $1.2 million award. The $1.7 million figure includes the interest.
Tauro said in a written decision that Hathaway “breached its duty” in two of the areas cited in Tringali’s lawsuit. He also said Hathaway was negligent in failing to warn Tringali of the risk involved in using the winch.
Hathaway generally provided shaft guards on winches, the judge wrote, and one was in place on the boat’s starboard winch.
Winches are used on fishing boats to haul large nets. Most have two large drums with wire lines attached to haul in the nets, Latti said.
Boston attorney Timothy McHugh, who represents Hathaway, deferred comment Thursday afternoon. “We’re still in the process of reviewing the decision, and are not prepared to comment on it at the time,” he said. “(We) have a lot of thinking to do on it.”
Hathaway officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
The judge found Tringali is unemployable, and he was awarded $950,000 from the company. His wife, Maria, will receive $50,000. And in a move Latti called “unique,” Tringali’s four children were awarded a total of $200,000 because “they have been deprived of the companionship, guidance and direct day-to-day influence that had characterized their prior relationship with their father,” the judge wrote.
In May 1982, Tringali and four crew members were hauling in the net to unload the catch. Tringali was in position behind the portside winch, handling the line and coiling it around the winch head. The line became tangled on the shaft, caught Tringali’s right leg and he was pulled into the winch head. His right leg was mangled. Tringali also had other injuries and stayed in the hospital about 40 days.
Tringali sued Hathaway on May 20, 1982. In turn, the machine company sued Boat Domenic T. Inc. and Rose’s Oil Service Inc. of Gloucester, which repaired the winch before Tringali’s accident.
In January 1982, Tringali directed Rose’s to repair some specific problems. But there was no discussion of the turn-off switch or shaft cover, the judge wrote.
Tauro found that Rose “met any duty it had to the Domenic T and Tringali, and, therefore, has no liability to Hathaway.”