Seaman Falls Through Open Hatch

Negligence: Paraplegia: Verdict
ATLA Law Reporter
September 2006
Falconer v. Penn Maritime, Inc., U.S. Dist. Ct., D.Me., No. 05-42-B-W, Nov. 22, 2005.

Falconer, 43, was employed as a seaman on a tugboat operated by Penn Maritime. While carrying an engine part, he fell 14 feet through an open hatch in the engine room, striking a railing and fracturing his skull. Falconer shattered several thoracic vertebrae and now has permanent T-6 paraplegia. He incurred about $127,600 in past medical expenses and faces between $1.6 million and $2 million in future medical costs. Because his past medical bills were covered by cure, Falconer did not make a claim for medical expenses. Falconer, who was earning about $40,000 annually as a marine engineer, does not anticipate being able to return to work. He claimed past and future lost wages of about $1.2 million.

Falconer sued Penn Maritime under the Jones Act, 46 Section 688, alleging defendant was negligent in failing to have safety rails around the hatch and failing to establish policies and procedures regarding working around open hatches. Suit also claimed that faulty design of the hatch cover made the tugboat unseaworthy. Specifically, plaintiff asserted that the hatch opening should have been guarded at all times, but the safety rails could be inserted only when the hatch cover was off and had to be removed before putting the cover back on. Plaintiff also alleged defendant was negligent per se in violating various U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Defendant claimed that the vessel was seaworthy and that plaintiff was comparatively negligent because he was aware that the safety railings around the hatch were missing.

A jury awarded $5.1 million based on plaintiff’s negligence claims but found him 35 percent responsible for his injuries. The award was accordingly reduced to $3.32 million.

Plaintiff’s experts included William H. Burke, lifecare planning, Portsmouth, N.H.; Dana M. Hewins, economics, Lakeville, Mass.; Jack Madeley, engineering, College Station, Tex.; Lewis Flint, surgery, Tampa, Fla.; and John Hall, physiatry, Waterville, Me.

Plaintiff’s Counsel

Carolyn M. Latti, Boston, Mass.