By Jeanne Curran
Bangor Daily News

A seaman from Owls Head who was seriously injured almost two years ago while fishing in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland has been awarded $3.1 million in damages from the owner of the fishing vessel on which he was sailing.

Donald A. Williams II, 33, and his family were awarded the sum in an out-of-court settlement last month by Trawler Enterprise Inc., a corporation owned by Francis J. O’Hara Sr. of Camden.

It is “the largest maritime settlement for a single person that I know of,” said attorney Michael Latti of Boston, who represented Williams.

Seeking compensatory and punitive damages, Williams filed an $11 million lawsuit in July in U.S. District Court in Bangor after he was left a quadriplegic as the result of an accident in December 1989 on the F/V Enterprise, a commercial fishing vessel based in Rockland.

The settlement includes $100,000 to be set aside for Williams’ two young children.

A liability claim by Williams’ wife and children had been dismissed by a federal judge in Bangor and appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. As a result of the settlement, the appeal has been dismissed, said Latti.

Commenting that he was “very pleased” with the settlement, Latti said, “It’s a very substantial sum … (that) gives the family something to continue with their lives.”

Efforts to reach attorney Leonard Langer of Portland, who represented Trawler Enterprise Inc., for comment on the settlement were unsuccessful.

On Dec. 9, 1989, Williams, who was a deckhand on the vessel, was standing watch in the Enterprise’s wheelhouse when he got up from the pilot’s chair to respond to an emergency alarm, and was thrown across the wheelhouse about 18 to 20 feet against a wall. The seaman suffered “a traumatic cervical injury,” was hospitalized for eight months, and became a quadriplegic, according to court documents.

Latti said that the vessel was sailing in very rough weather, with winds of 30 to 40 knots and seas of 15 to 20 feet. He pointed out that on the same day, “other people were injured on other vessels (in the area). …In fact, other people were killed.”
Williams claimed in his lawsuit that Trawler Enterprise Inc. was liable for his injuries because the wheelhouse had no “comprehensive handrail system,” and that the captain was “negligent for traveling at an unsafe rate of speed under the circumstances including the weather and the damaged condition of the vessel.”

The company maintained that the vessel was fully seaworthy, and Williams’ injuries were caused by either his own negligence or an act of God, according to court documents.