Here is an update about a recent jury verdict out of New Orleans federal court where a Jones Act seaman obtained close to $3.4 million for injuries he sustained while working on a barge. The jury awarded $3,796,650 in damages but also found the seaman was 11% at fault for the incident. So the seaman will recover close to $3.4 million (89% of total damage award)
The Jones Act seaman was working as a floorhand on the MONCLA 105 workover barge when he was struck in the head by a falling object. The workover barge was in the process of plugging and abandoning a well in Lake Raccourci located in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana.
The seaman was wearing a hardhat during the incident. However, the object reportedly fell with such a force that it indented his hardhat, lacerated his head and knocked him down. He was taken to shore for medical treatment after the incident.
The seaman sued the barge owner claiming he suffered injuries to his right shoulder, neck, lower back and head. He also claimed the incident caused him to suffer from depression, anxiety, anger management, memory, and executive function deficit issues. The barge owner went bankrupt after the incident so its insurers appeared in the suit to defend the claim. The crew determined that a shackle attaching a counter weight to the rig’s cat line had failed, and the cotter pin securing the bolt in the shackle had backed out. The crew reportedly made no effort to preserve or photograph any of these items after the incident. Instead, they put the assembly back together and continued with their work.
The seaman’s legal team criticized the company and crew for failing to implement adequate inspection policies to prevent something like the above from happening. To support this position, the seaman pointed to a post-incident safety investigation report where the investigator noted “lack of proper inspections of the rigging equipment and documentation showing inspections of the rigging equipment likely contributed” to the incident. The seaman also hired a liability expert who agreed with this conclusion based on his review of the available evidence.
The seaman also retained a mechanical engineer to talk about the force required to create the indention in the hardhat and the underlying cut to the seaman's head. It was estimated that the object weighed four pounds and fell 20 feet. Based on these numbers and the damage to the hardhat, the mechanical engineer opined that the object struck the the seaman in the head at a force of 95 Gs.
The defense argued the seaman was contributorily negligent for the incident because he was the barge's foreman who was responsible for inspecting and servicing the equipment at issue. The defense emphasized that the seaman actually inspected the equipment shortly before the incident according to the barge owner’s policies and procedures. So the defense argued he should have corrected the problem when he inspected it. The defense also disputed the seaman ever lost consciousness after the incident or sustained any serious brain damage from impact.
As to damages, the defense argued that the anger and behavioral problems all predated the incident and thus were not related to the claim. Further, the defense argued the seaman “sustain[ed] little or no loss of future earning capacity” because the defense's experts maintained the seaman was capable of returning to work and earning around the same hourly wage he was making during the incident.
The case was tried by a jury in New Orleans federal court. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of the seaman on September 7, 2022. The jury found the barge owner was 89% at fault and the seaman was 11% at fault. The jury awarded $3,796,650 in general damages, past lost wages, future loss of earning capacity and future medical expenses. The award damage award will be reduced by 11% due to the seaman's contributory fault finding.
The jury verdict form with a breakdown of the damage award is provided below.
The above factual background is derived from the parties’ joint pretrial order filed into the public record of Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-02258. If you would like a copy, please email me at email@example.com and I'll send you one. Please also feel free to email me or call me at (985) 705-1028 if you have any questions or would like to discuss.