Fisherman Wins Lawsuit for $3 Million

By Stephen Betts
The Courier Gazette
October 5, 1991

OWLS HEAD – A fisherman who was left partially paralyzed in an accident aboard a fishing vessel two years ago will receive the largest maritime settlement in Maine history, his attorney said Friday. The $3.1 million settlement in the lawsuit brought by 31-year-old Donald Williams came on the eve of the scheduled start of the trial in U.S. District Court in Bangor.  Williams was injured Dec. 10, 1989, aboard the trawler Enterprise owned by Enterprise Corporation, which is managed by F.J. O’Hara & Sons of Rockland.

“This is the largest maritime settlement I’m aware of for a single individual, and I’ve been a maritime trial lawyer for 31 years,” said William’s lawyer Michael Latti of Boston.

Williams was sitting in the pilot’s chair in the Enterprise’s wheelhouse when an alarm sounded, indicating that water was coming in around the shaft. When he stood up to check out the situation, he was thrown 18-20 feet across the wheelhouse, Latti said. The vessel was in a storm about 100 miles southwest of Sable Island off the southern tip of Nova Scotia when the accident occurred. Winds were as high as 40 knots with seas of 20 feet, Latti said. The liability was due to the lack of a rail next to the pilot’s chair in the wheelhouse, Latti explained, adding that other O’Hara-managed vessels had rails.

Williams was airlifted from the Enterprise by a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter. He spent a month at Victoria General Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before being transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland where he remained for eight months. Latti said that William’s spirit has allowed him to make progress following the accident. “Donald Williams works hard at whatever he does. He had a lot of guts, a lot of courage,” Latti said.

Latti added that doctors had said Williams would be completely quadriplegic due to a spinal injury, but that he reached his goal of walking out of Maine Medical on crutches. The Owls Head man uses a wheelchair, occasionally a walker, and is continuing to work on his rehabilitation.

The husband and father of two children had been earning up to $80,000 per year as a deckhand aboard the Enterprise, according to Latti.