Some boat owners never learn. Recently, the team at Latti & Anderson recovered a $785,000 settlement for a crew member of a scallop fishing vessel after he seriously aggravated a pre-existing back injury by falling on the slippery deck. This was the third time our team had brought a claim against the owner of the vessel for the exact same type of fall. The boat owner simply refused to use non-skid paint or install another type of non-skid surface. The vessel crew members suffered as a result.
While we could not turn back time and erase the effects of the accident, we were able to help the injured crew member receive compensation to offset some of the pain he has suffered and to make up for years of income lost due to his inability to continue working at sea. We hope his story inspires others who have been injured in similar accidents to seek the compensation they deserve for their losses, which could have been prevented if the boat owner had only acted responsibly.
What Led Up to the Case
Our client had worked as a commercial fisherman for over 40 years at the time of his accident on the scallop vessel. He was 61-years-old and planned to work at sea until the age of 70. A few years before the accident, he suffered a back injury unrelated to work, had spinal fusion surgery, and went back to work three months later. He was strong, and used to heavy labor.
But one day, as he was turning to carry a basket of scallops to the shucking house, he slipped and fell, landing hard on his right side. The fall caused a T12 compression fracture and aggravated his old back problems, resulting in so much pain that he could hardly move. Forced into a sedentary lifestyle by the injuries, he developed acute deep vein thrombosis in his right leg and multiple clots in both lungs.
Although his pulmonary embolism ultimately resolved, he continued to have chronic clots in his leg, along with intense swelling, shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue. The man who previously spent his days shifting heavy loads on the open sea could now barely climb a single flight of stairs, and there was no prospect of improvement.
Legal Issues for Injured Crew Members
This case settled through mediation, so we do not have a judge’s official ruling on the legal issues. However, the key issue in this case was that the scallop vessel had not been equipped with an effective non-skid surface. Standard marine practice calls for the use of non-skid paint or deck tiles or another functional non-skid coating to prevent slip and fall accidents. The deck in this case was composed of bare steel or worn composite that was extremely slippery and therefore hazardous.
While the cost of a non-skid coating is more than a regular material, the cost is not prohibitive. It is estimated that it would have cost several thousand dollars to use non-skid paint that is designed to withstand conditions at sea without chipping. U.S. Coast Guard recommends non-skid surfaces for the working areas of decks on commercial fishing vessels.
The boat owner tried to argue that it would have done no good to apply non-skid paint because it would only chip off, but that argument fails when you realize that such paint is routinely used on other vessels and heavy traffic surfaces like bridges and air craft carriers with great success. The owner also tried to argue that the pain and clotting the crew member experienced were not caused by the fall, but there are numerous cases where courts have held that the liability for aggravating an existing injury is just as bad as causing a new injury, and we had medical evidence showing the connection between the accident and the debilitating conditions that resulted.
Help for Commercial Fishermen Injured by the Negligence & Unseaworthiness of Boat Owners
When boat owners try to cut corners to increase their profits, they often place crew members in a seriously dangerous situation. That is not right, and we can help.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries while working at sea, we invite you to contact us for a free case evaluation. You could be entitled to compensation to offset your losses and help meet your future needs.