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Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC Secures $11,401,000 Verdict Against Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. for Injured Jones Act Deck Mechanic

SeekJustice-300x208The team at Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC was honored to help an injured Jones Act deck mechanic in a recent two-week trial in Portland, Oregon. All three attorneys, Jim Jacobsen, Joe Stacey, and Nigel Stacey presented evidence to the jury while fighting for a hardworking family man who can no longer work his union job.  At the conclusion of the trial, a Portland jury awarded the injured worker $11,401,000 in compensatory damages for injuries he suffered after a 40-year-old Nabrico hand winch spun out of control and hit his arm.

The Injury

Nathan Pinkstaff, a Jones Act seamen deck mechanic working aboard a Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. tug and barge flotilla, was injured after being improperly trained how to use the hand winch on the barge’s deck in a procedure that explicitly violated the manufacturer’s manual; this was unsafe training.  The tug was attempting to build a tow with the Granite Point tug, tying two grain barges and one oil barge bow to stern, or “endo.”  This tow was being built at the Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. Snake River terminal, where the Snake River flows into the Columbia River in Washington State.

The captain and senior deckhand instructed Mr. Pinkstaff to loosen a barge winch to make the connection. He tried to loosen the winch in the exact way Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. taught him. While operating the winch in the exact manner he was trained, the winch exploded out of Mr. Pinkstaff’s hand and started pulling him into the winch. Fortunately, he was able to avoid being pulled into the machinery but was hit in the back of the arm by the metal speed knob that protruded from the wheel.

Unknown to Mr. Pinkstaff when he was injured, Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. had been teaching its employees to violate the manual for decades despite knowing it was against the manual. Several employees experienced close calls and injuries.  The manual explicitly mandated Tidewater not to tighten and loosen the winches in this manner.  The problem was so well known that Tidewater attempted to correct its faulty training in the 1990s, only to abandon attempts soon thereafter for their “convenience.”  This exercise of “speed over safety,” however, was not communicated or taught to Mr. Pinkstaff, making it a maritime accident and injury waiting to happen.

The Trial

All three attorneys, Jim Jacobsen, Joe Stacey, and Nigel Stacey presented evidence to the jury as they fought for a hardworking family man who could no longer work his union job.  The team examined current and former Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. employees, industry experts, medical professionals, and those who knew Mr. Pinkstaff best: his family and friends.

The Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC team began work long before the trial, to present the best case for Mr. Pinkstaff.  Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. has a safety management system in place which requires finding the root causes and causal factors of any injury. Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. Health and Safety Specialist, Kelly Kilgore, completed the report, which blamed Tidewater for Mr. Pinkstaff’s injuries. Mr. Kilgore’s superior, Vice President William Collins, changed the report to place blame on Mr. Pinkstaff and give Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. a free pass, even though he did not conduct any additional investigation.

Experts in engineering safety reviewed the manual and explained to the jury why it was so dangerous for Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. to train employees in a manner that violated a manual provision written for safety. The Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC team was successful in getting safety specialist Mr. Kilgore to admit that this faulty training caused Mr. Pinkstaff’s injuries.

Along with presenting the faulty training and procedures, Mr. Pinkstaff’s team provided evidence which made it clear that Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. was at fault by their failure to move an obstructing tug, failure to complete the lashing procedure at a different facility, and the captain’s failure to go All Stop after informing Mr. Pinkstaff he had.

The jury listened intently as Mr. Pinkstaff described how his dream of working his way up into the wheelhouse – as a mate, then pilot, then captain – was taken from him due to negligence and the unseaworthiness by Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. Nathan Pinkstaff has suffered significant economic harm. Because of his injuries, he can no longer work or earn at the same level as before the accident. In addition, he has lost all his union benefits.  His physical limitations further prohibit him from working around his house as he previously did. He is now required to hire someone to do the jobs, chores, and tasks required to maintain his home.

The Result

Following the two-week trial, the jury concluded that Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. was negligent under the Jones Act and that the barge and its training procedures were unseaworthy under general maritime law. In doing so, the jury strongly rejected Tidewater’s arguments that Mr. Pinkstaff was to blame, finding Tidewater 100% at fault for Pinkstaff’s injuries and determining that Mr. Pinkstaff was not negligent in any way.

The jury also understood Pinkstaff suffered significant injuries, leading to multiple surgical procedures and humiliation because of Tidewater Barge Lines Inc. negligence and unseaworthiness.  He suffers from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and will never be able to use his right side the same way or return to work at sea.  The jury awarded $8,000,000 in damages for past and future pain & suffering.  The jury awarded Mr. Pinkstaff $3,401,000 in economic damages for past and future household services.

The team at Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC was proud to represent Mr. Pinkstaff as he stood up to a corporation and received a $11,401,000 verdict.  Stacey & Jacobsen PLLC is now pursuing both prejudgment interest and post-judgment interest to further increase Mr. Pinkstaff’s award.

The case was tried before Oregon State Judge Eric Dahlin; Nathan Pinkstaff v. Tidewater Barge Lines, Inc., Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the county of Multnomah, Case. No. 19-cv-554217.

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