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.
At trial, the Port of Bellingham argued that the Alaska State Ferry system was responsible for making repairs to the gangway and negligent for not training Adamson in how to safely operate the gangway’s controls. Adamson’s lawyers, James Jacobsen and Joseph Stacey, argued it was the Port of Bellingham’s contractual obligation under the lease to repair and maintain the gangway. Adamson’s lawyers contended the Port failed to give proper notice to the State of Alaska or to Adamson about the known danger that the gangway could suddenly and unexpectedly collapse.