A Washington State King County Court Judge has entered a 1.12 million dollar verdict in favor of an injured Bristol Bay fisherman. The 50-year old fisherman, Ronald Lanphere, injured his knee in 2008 when his rain gear became entangled in a rotating shaft of the vessel’s engine room. Lanphere had two knee surgeries as a result of the accident and may require a knee replacement in the future.
Included in the verdict was a $100,000 punitive damage award against the owner of the vessel. Adam Evich and his insurance company had made partial payment of the unearned wages but had not paid the seaman the full amount to which he was entitled. The Court found that Evich had willfully refused to pay Lanphere $3,180 in unearned wages that he was owed. Last year, a King County jury awarded an injured seaman 1.1 million dollars in punitive damages for willfully refusing to pay maintenance and cure benefits. Punitive damages are a deterrent to vessel owners and employers to ensure that injured seamen receive maintenance and cure benefits.
An order finding the Defendant, Adam Evich, liable for the accident had previously been entered in the matter. The Fishing Vessel Safety Act requires that rotating shafts be fitted with guards to prevent injuries to crewmen. A violation of the Fishing Vessel Safety Act may prohibit a vessel owner from raising comparative fault as a defense to a Jones Act claim.
The Defendant failed to present evidence to reduce Lanphere’s future wage loss claim to present value, and the Court therefore did not discount future damages. Notably, although Lanphere was back to work earning over $30 an hour at the time of trial, the Court found that Lanphere would not be able to continue in this occupation and found that he had a lost wage earning capacity of $639,000.
Lanphere v. Evich, King County Superior Court of Washington, Cause No. 09-2-13576-2 SEA.