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Seaman allowed to obtain ten years' worth of facing up incidents from ARTCO



Plaintiff Melissa Eckles was employed as a cook on defendant ARTCO's towboat the M/V CRIMSON GLORY. Eckles alleges she was injured when the CRIMSON GLORY "faced up" to another ARTCO vessel and bumped it.


Specifically, the operation involved the CRIMSON GLORY pushing on the COOPERATIVE MARINER's stern without using any face wires. ARTCO's Standard Operating Procedure describes "facing up" as "attach[ing] the Lineboat to the barge with face wires." However, the CRIMSON GLORY's captain testified that "facing up" can encompass a broader range of activities like the one in question where a towboat physically contacts another vessel.


Eckles alleges that the captain did not give her proper notice the vessel was about to face up and that when the vessels bumped into one another she lost her balance and caught herself mid-fall by grabbing a table. She sustained injuries to her shoulder and neck as a result. Eckles claims ARTCO lacked proper policies and procedures to ensure her safety during the face up maneuver.


To support her theory of the case, Eckles' legal team sought discovery of prior incidents over 10 years where persons were injured or thrown overboard when an ARTCO vessel faced up to another. Here is the discovery at issue:


INTERROGATORY NO. 1: For the past ten (10) years leading up to February 13, 2019, identify reports, claims, lawsuits, or other notice that a person aboard a marine vessel operated by you has been injured or thrown overboard as an alleged result of that ARTCO-operated vessel facing up to another marine vessel. For each, (a) identify the date of your first notice, (b) identify the person injured or thrown overboard, (c) identify the person's attorney, (d) describe the alleged injuries, and (e) if a lawsuit was filed, identify the venue and case caption of the lawsuit.


ARTCO filed objections to the above discovery alleging that the discovery would impose an undue burden on ARTCO and that the information in question was not relevant. Eckles legal team filed a motion to compel ARTCO to respond.


To support her motion to compel, Eckles argued that the information was relevant to establishing ARTCO's notice of potential hazards associated with facing up. She argued that evidence of prior similar accidents is relevant to whether ARTCO took adequate safety measures to protect her against a particular harm. She also noted from previous testimony in the case that there was reason to believe the requested information existed.


ARTCO objected to the discovery on two basis: (1) it claimed the information was irrelevant and (2) that responding to same would be too burdensome on ARTCO. As to relevance, ARTCO argued that information about prior incidents is not necessary to show that unexpected bumps can occur. Further, Eckles was not seeking information concerning substantially similar incidents such that the request sought irrelevant and inadmissible information. As to the request being unduly burdensome, ARTCO argued that the discovery request will effectively require ARTCO to review ten years' worth of documents from a nationwide river transportation company for any incident caused by the front of one boat touching another. ARTCO argued that the sheer scope of this request for a company of ARTCO's scale could not be accomplished without imposing severe, undue burden on ARTCO.


The District Court rejected ARTCO's arguments, granted Eckles' motion and ordered ARTCO to produce the requested information. The court determined that:


  • The requested discovery is relevant to Eckles claims and defenses regarding the adequacy of ARTCO's safety procedures for facing up vessels.

  • ARTCO failed to sufficiently provide specifics about why producing the discovery would impose an undue burden.

  • ARTCO waived its right to object to the discovery requests by failing to timely respond.


Here is a copy of the decision:


Eckles v. Archer Daniels Midland Co. D B A Adm._ 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39146
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Please feel free to reach out at ad@adamdavislawfirm.com or (504) 553-1435 if you have any questions or would like to discuss.


Thanks,


Adam Davis Law Firm

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