Articles Posted in Legal Cases & Concerns

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APRIL 1, 2016

A Seattle Federal Court Jury has awarded an Alaska Ferry worker and her husband 16 million dollars in total compensatory damages for injuries she suffered when a gangway she was working upon collapsed at the Port of Bellingham.  Shannon Adamson, a Mate aboard an Alaska Ferry, was injured in an 18 foot fall in November of 2012 when a large gangway she was standing on, while lowering the gangway for passengers to board the ferry, suddenly collapsed.  Experts in engineering safety determined that critical safety controls for the gangway had not been installed, allowing potentially lethal slack to develop in the cables used to raise and lower the ramp.  Following a two week trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Adamson and her husband Nicholas.

The passenger gangway, which was owned by the Port and being leased by the Alaska Ferry system, had previous problems and was involved in a near collapse in 2008. Following the first gangway failure, engineers working for the Port of Bellingham recommended that a safety “limit switch” be installed, which would have prevented the operation of the controls in such a manner that the pins used to lock the gangway into position could not be removed if cables used to lower and raise the gangway had been previously  slacked.  The Port of Bellingham failed to install the recommended safety limit switch which would have cost just a few dollars to install.

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With the recent approval of the Washington State Maritime Cooperative’s new oil spill contingency plan, a seminar will be held Friday, October 24th, 2014 at the Doubletree Guest Suites Southcenter at 7:45 AM.

The seminar is free, and intends to address the significant changes of the new plan. Attendees will be able to learn and discuss the different areas of the plan, such as spill response, spill prevention, as well as contingency planning. Both local and national stakeholders will be able to exchange information with the aim of creating an environmentally safer region for maritime commerce.

Over a hundred people are expected to attend the seminar. This amount includes members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Washington’s Department of Ecology, oil spill response contractors, as well as members of the WSMC.

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Partially in response to Washington State’s tourism office being eliminated by budget cuts in 2011, two South Sound Congressmen have proposed a federal designation of Puget Sound as a heritage area. The 13 mile stretch of coast would not be subject to the same regulations as a wilderness or wetland, but would hopefully attract those curious about maritime history.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, created legislation that would create the second Northwest or West Coast heritage area, the first being in Alaska. The area would focus on the maritime history prevalent in the Puget Sound, and might lure in federal grants for projects such as preservation efforts.

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Earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Ecology approved of the Washington State Maritime Cooperative’s oil spill contingency plan, applying it to all vessels in Puget Sound and non-tank vessels in Grey’s Harbor. The WSMC website allows vessel owners to quickly enroll in the plan, laying out the regulations necessary to comply.
Some of the regulations in the plan include required Notice of Arrivals, posting the WSMC regulations where crewmembers have access to them, as well as agreeing to alert the WSMC within the hour if a situation arises where there is the possibility for a spill. The Department of Ecology’s approval runs for five years, through January 23rd, 2019.
More information can be found at the WSMC website, http://www.wsmcoop.org/.

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Orlando Coronel was injured while working as a fish processor for Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA). Coronel was involved in two separate accidents aboard the F/V ALASKA VICTORY, injuring his shoulder and wrist. Coronel retained the maritime lawyers Beard Stacey and Jacobsen, who filed suit against the Fishing Company of Alaska in King County Superior Court, alleging Jones Act negligence and that the unseaworthiness of the vessel lead to his injury.

Utilizing procedural rules, the Fishing Company of Alaska (FCA) removed Coronel’s case to Federal Court, trying to shift the case to Federal Court in Seattle rather than face a King County jury. FCA argued that a minor change in the removal statue made in 2011 permitted removal of maritime cases from State Court to Federal Court. Arguing on behalf of Coronel, Beard Stacey and Jacobsen claimed that the Federal Court lacked original jurisdiction over maritime claims filed in State Court, and the Savings to Suitors clause prohibited removal of Jones Act claims from State Courts. Furthermore, Coronel argued that the Jones Act gave him an absolute choice to have his Jones Act claim heard in State Court rather than in Federal Court.

U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Western District of Washington, Judge James Robart, heard the case and held that maritime cases for injured seaman such as Coronel cannot be removed from State Court. Judge Robart held that the Federal Court lacked original jurisdiction over such claims, and that the Savings to Suitors clause protected the injured seaman’s right to sue in State Court. According to Judge Robart’s decision, the Removal Statute did not apply to injured fisherman such as Coronel. Although a few U.S. District Courts had previously accepted the arguments made by FCA, the detailed and thorough analysis of Judge Robart’s decision is likely to be the adopted precedent by other District Courts throughout the United States. The full case can be found at Coronel v. Alaska Victory, 2014 WL 820270 (2014).

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The Federal Appellate Court for the Fifth Circuit has entered an opinion, McBride et al v. Estis Well Services, approving punitive damages for seaman in cases involving claims of unseaworthiness. The decision is one of the first Circuit Court decisions to address punitive damages availability in a Jones Act or unseaworthiness action since the Supreme Court of the United States’ land mark decision in Atlantic Soundings v. Townsend. The Atlantic Soundingsdecision declared punitive damages were available to seamen when their employer willfully and callously withheld maintenance and cure benefits. The McBride decision now confirms that punitive damages are also available under the general maritime law doctrine of seaworthiness.

The McBride case involved a barge with a truck-mounted drilling rig on a Louisiana bayou. As crewmen were attempting to straighten the monkey board – the catwalk that extends from the derrick – which had twisted the previous night, the derrick pipe shifted, causing the rig and truck to topple over. One crewman died in the accident and three others were injured.
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Beard Stacey & Jacobsen, LLP has established a landmark decision for an injured seaman before the Washington State Supreme Court. The ruling yesterday declares that there is no pre-established arbitrary cap on a seaman’s right to punitive damages for the wrongful withholding of maintenance and cure benefits.

Accepting Dana Clausen’s team of lawyers’ arguments, the Washington State Supreme Court denied Icicle Seafoods’ attempt to cap a seaman’s right to punitive damages. In Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., Case No. 85200-6, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict of 1.3 million dollars in punitive damages against Icicle. The jury found Icicle’s conduct in refusing to pay the injured seaman’s medical bills and maintenance in an amount of $35,000 to be willful, wanton and malicious conduct, and that it was financially motivated. The Court rejected Icicle’s argument that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Exxon Valdez case required that there be a one-to-one ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages. The Washington Supreme Court stated the policy and purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter egregious conduct and rejected Icicle’s argument that punitive damages should be capped based upon the size of the underlying claim. The Court noted that, because of Icicle’s conduct, Clausen, who had suffered a back injury in a lifting accident aboard Icicle’s vessel, had been forced into poverty and was forced to move into a broken down wreck of a travel trailer while trying to live on just a $20 a day living allowance.
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The history of piracy is a long one, and piracy remains a threat in modern times. The potential for pirate attack may exist in any waters, but during the past decade it is Somali pirates along the east coast of Africa and in the Indian Ocean who receive the headlines. Billions of dollars in international maritime trade has been lost due to cancelled or delayed shipments and higher expenses. The pirates have attacked ships, often taking prisoners for ransom and keeping the ships to sell or use in future attacks. There are a number of theories as to why the number of Somali pirates has risen to such a level. One theory is that Somali fishermen resort to piracy because the dumping of toxic waste by other countries has made fishing for a living impossible for Somali nationals. Other factors include decades of political unrest, war, and ineffectual government leadership, which make it easier for organized crime to move in and take advantage of a desperate situation.

In 2009, Combined Anti-piracy Task Force 151 (CTF 151) was formed to combat the increasing boldness of the pirates. CTF 151 is an international force which has been commanded by members of various navies from 25 countries, including the U.S., Pakistan, Turkey, South Korea, and New Zealand. The mission of CTF 151 is to protect shipping lanes from piracy and to restore freedom of navigation and legitimate maritime commerce.
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The usual rule in litigation is that each party pays its own attorney’s fee. It’s called the “American Rule.” There are exceptions to this rule, however. One such exception has to do with maintenance and medical bills of a seaman who is injured while working. In a case pending in front of the Washington State Supreme Court, a case being handled by Beard Stacey & Jacobsen, LLP, all sorts of issues regarding an attorney’s fee award are being considered when the employer fails to pay maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure is a fundamental right to each seaman who has been injured while in the vessel’s service. The OSCEOLA, 189 U.S. 158, 175, 23 S. Ct. 483, 47 L. Ed. 760 (1903); Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 532, 82 S. Ct. 997, 8 L. Ed. 2d 88 (1962). This is a no-fault obligation that must be paid. Some employers, however, refuse to fulfill their obligation and willfully withhold maintenance and cure. The pending Washington State Supreme Court case, Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc., addresses what remedies are available to the seaman when the employer fails to fulfill his or her obligation to maintenance and cure.
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A pending case in the Washington State Supreme Court is one of the first in the nation to deal with when and how much in punitive damages can be awarded. Punitive damages are awarded to punish bad behavior. The case deals with one of a seaman’s fundamental rights: the right to maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure are traditional remedies under maritime law. “Maintenance” is the daily payment to cover certain living expenses expected while on a vessel; “cure” refers to the payment of certain medical bills. They are designed to provide a seaman with food, lodging and medical care when one becomes sick or injured in the vessel’s service. The OSCEOLA, 189 U.S. 158, 175, 23 S. Ct. 483, 47 L. Ed. 760 (1903); Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 532, 82 S. Ct. 997, 8 L. Ed. 2d 88 (1962). Maintenance and cure are no-fault obligations employers must fulfill so long as the injury occurred while in the ship’s service and until the seaman reaches maximum cure. West v. Midland Enters., 227 F.3d 613, 616 (6th Cir. 2000), Gardiner v. Sea-Land Serv., Inc., 786 F. 2d 943, 945-46 (9th Cir. 1986).
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