Boat Line Worker Wins Lawsuit

Boat Line Worker Wins Lawsuit, Jury Awards Steamship Authority Employee More Than $700,000 for Injuries

By Julia St. George
Cape Cod Times
November 8, 1996

BOSTON – A Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority employee injured on the job two years ago was awarded more than $700,000 by a jury in the U. S. District Court last week.

The Oct. 28 verdict found the Woods Hole-based boat line liable for injuries suffered by employee John Ford of Mashpee during an incident on the ferry Eagle.

The eight-person jury also directed the boat line to pay for a portion of the medical coasts it reportedly had refused to cover. The total judgment, including court costs, was approximately $763,000, according to Ford’s attorney, David Anderson of Latti Associates in Boston.

The Steamship Authority will appeal the decision, boat line general manager Armand L. Tiberio said yesterday. “We feel pretty confident the decision will be reversed,” Tiberio said.

Ford filed suit under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, which allows for recovery by seaman if they can prove their injuries were caused by the employer’s negligence. Seaman are not eligible to apply for workmans compensation if they are hurt on the job. Instead, Anderson said, they can either work out an agreement with their employer or bring a lawsuit against them.

“Seamen are unique in that respect,” he said.  Ford, a seaman, was the first president of the Southeast Massachusetts Maritime Employees Association, an independent union formed three years ago to represent about 210 seamen, laborers and cooks who work on the ferries running between the mainland and the islands.

He has not worked at the boat line since the incident. Ford did not return messages left at his Mashpee home yesterday and Wednesday.

According to information in court documents and from sources on both sides to the case, the incident allegedly occurred the morning of Feb. 24, 1994, while the vessel was docked in Woods Hole. Another employee allegedly swung a long thin tool called a “manhelper”, sticking Ford in the hip. “He was an innocent bystander,” Anderson said. “Mr. ford was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

As a result of the injuries, court documents state, Ford “suffered great pain of body and anguish of mind, lost a great deal of time form his usual work, (and) incurred medical and hospital expenses.” Documents show that Ford earned $41,116 in wages and benefits during 1993. In the 18 months between the alleged incident and when the lawsuit was filed, Ford lost approximately $61,674 in earnings.

The employee who allegedly wielded the tool remains on the job, Tiberio said.