The Source for Maritime Legal Information

Passenger_Evac_Carnival_Sunshine-1The Jacksonville Command Center for the U.S. Coast Guard received a call Monday night that 31-year-old passenger aboard the Carnival Sunshine was in need of a higher level of medical care than the cruise ship medical staff could offer.  A 45-foot Coast Guard response boat was dispatched from Port Canaveral with emergency medical service personnel aboard and met the Carnival Sunshine off the Florida coast.  The passenger along with a nurse from the cruise ship boarded the response boat and were taken to Jetty Park where the Brevard County Fire Rescue took over and transported the passenger to Health First Cape Canaveral Hospital.  There is no word on the passenger’s medical status at this time.

Florida_Injured_Maritime_WorkerA Florida Federal court has recently found that an injured maritime worker has a right to a jury trial for his Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness and failure to provide maintenance and cure claims asserted as counter-claims to his employer’s admiralty declaratory judgment action.

Facts of the Case

In this case, a maritime worker sustained a back injury while standing watch aboard a ship.  From this incident, he demanded that the ship owners provide him maintenance and cure benefits which is benefit owed to seamen who are injured while in call of the vessel regardless of fault. Two days after receiving the maintenance and cure demand, the ship owners filed a declaratory judgment action under the Declaratory Judgment Act seeking a Florida Federal court to determine that maintenance and cure is not owed because the maritime worker failed to qualify as a seaman.  In bringing the declaratory judgment action, the ship owners invoked the court’s admiralty jurisdiction which does not carry the right of a jury trial.  The injured maritime worker answered the declaratory judgment action and filed a counter-claim against the ship owners seeking damages under the legal theories of Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness and failure to provide maintenance and cure.  Along with the counter-claim, the injured maritime worker demanded a jury trial.  The ship owners moved to strike the jury trial demand on the basis that jury trials are not available in admiralty proceedings.

(Matthew Hinton/Advocate via AP)An oil platform on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana exploded on Sunday night injuring seven workers and resulting in the disappearance of 44-year-old Timothy Morrison of Katy, Texas.  US Coast Guard conducted a search for the missing worker for close to 24 hours until announcing Monday night that the search would be suspended.  Per officials, the platform is a natural gas storage location that feeds from other nearby rigs and is located approximately a mile and a half from the Kenner Boat Launch in Jefferson Parish and is owned by Clovelly Oil Co.

According to preliminary investigations, it appears that cleaning chemicals ignited on the surface of the oil rig platform leading to the explosion.  A cause of the blast has not yet been identified.  Arson investigators are expected to determine the cause once the fire has been extinguished.  Nearby residents described the sound of the explosion as a “sonic boom” coming from the lake.

Eight workers were aboard the platform at the time of the explosion. Seven were rescued and taken to hospitals with blast-type injuries and burns. Four of the workers have since been discharged.  We extend our sincerest condolences to Mr. Morrison’s family and loved ones and wish all survivors involved a speedy recovery.

The law applicable to these type of incidents is particularly complex and highly dependent on the type of platform involved, whether fixed or floating.  If the platform is a floating platform found to be a “vessel,” an injured worker may be considered a Jones Act seaman and thus entitled to damages for medical costs, physical pain, mental anguish, loss of earning capacity, etc. Notably, practically any type of equipment that can be used for transportation over water qualifies as a “vessel.” See Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co., 543 U.S. 481 (2005). In contrast, if it is determined that the platform was a fixed offshore platform, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA or OCS Lands Act) makes the law of the adjacent state applicable as surrogate federal law and the worker will not be allowed to bring the usual seaman claims unless he is independently associated with a vessel.

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Boat-Crash-Kills-1-2-injured-300x163A personal watercraft crashed into a boat on Sunday at approximately 8:00 p.m. on Lake Louise in Windermere, Florida. Larry Marin, 37, the operator of the personal watercraft was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.  Glorimar Correa, 40, the passenger on the personal watercraft and William Bryant, 39, the operator of the boat were both transferred to Orlando Regional Medical Center with serious injuries.  Per reports, the watercraft crashed into the boat with such force that it sank the personal watercraft.  Witness, Carina Lee Rodriguez said her friends rescued the victims from the water and took them ashore.  She reported the female victim could not breath and couldn’t feel her legs and the man, presumably Marin, was bleeding.  Orange County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit responded to the scene and continues to investigate.

 

 

Florida_Maritime_Death_Remedies-300x235Florida maritime death claim remedies for non-seamen vary depending upon whether the death occurred in territorial waters or the high seas.

Deaths Occurring on Territorial Waters

Territorial waters are generally considered as rivers, bays, lagoons, estuaries and nearshore. Florida declares a territorial sea nine miles off its Gulf coast and the farther of three miles off its Atlantic coast or to the western edge of the Gulf Stream. See, Fla. Const., Art. II, Sec. 1.  The United States declares a twelve-mile territorial sea. See, Proclamation No. 5928.  Deaths which occur in territorial waters are governed by Federal maritime common law and supplemented by Florida’s wrongful death statute.

Child_Falls_Carnival_Glory-300x225A Girl has died after a fall from a Carnival cruise ship at the Port of Miami.  Reports reveal that the 8-year-old girl fell two stories from the interior atrium aboard the Carnival Glory Saturday morning.  Shortly after the incident, a retired paramedic started preforming resuscitation efforts.  The ship contacted Miami-Dade Fire Rescue which took over resuscitation efforts and transported the child to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead hours later.  The Carnival Glory had just returned to the Port of Miami after completing a 7-day Caribbean voyage when the incident occurred.   This is the third incident in recent times were a child has fallen over a railing aboard Carnival cruise ship.  On August 4th, a three-year-old girl fell from the balcony onto the lido deck aboard the Carnival Breeze.  In June, 2016, another three-year-old girl slipped through the rail of a Carnival Liberty ship from the 14th deck to the 12th deck.  Thankfully, both children survived those falls.

 

Injured_Fisherman_ClaimA Federal court recently found determined that a jury is to resolve an injured fisherman Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims .

Facts of the Case

This case involves a personal injury sustained by a professional fisherman aboard a vessel engaged in scalloping.  When fishing for scallops, the vessel the fishermen worked aboard drags along the sea floor two dredges, one on the starboard side and one on the port side.  Every hour, the dredges are winched up and their contents (which includes scallops, bycatch, rocks, and other debris) are dumped on the aft deck in what is known as “the pile.” The dredges are then lowered back to the seafloor, and the crew uses the next hour to pick the scallops out of the pile, deposit them in the shucking house, and return the rocks and bycatch to the sea.  Although the vessel has a non-skid surface on some of the deck, there is an area of the stern deck where the dredges and chain bags are regularly landed that does not. According to the defendants, that is due to the heavy abuse that part of the deck takes, which would cause the coating to wear off in a matter of days.

Injured_Seafarer_Arbitration-300x200Arbitration agreements are prevalent in cruise line seafarer contracts today.  This practice deprives the injured crewmembers of the fundamental right of a jury and sometimes precludes them of their statutory negligence causes of action provided to them under the Jones Act.  However, given the unique nature of maritime employment, in certain situations seafarers can avoid arbitrating personal injury despite the employment contracts requiring arbitration.

Facts of the Case

Recently a Florida Federal Court held that an arbitration provision found in a cruise line seafarer’s employment contract did not govern her on-the-job personal injury dispute.  In this case, the seafarer’s contract employer was not the owner or operator of the cruise ship.  In other words, the seafarer contracted with one company and then sent to work aboard a cruise ship owned and operated by other companies.  Once the seafarer started working aboard the cruise ship, she was managed and directed by the cruise ship’s owner and operator not the company of which she was technically employed by.  This unique set of facts allowed the seafarer to allege she was the borrowed servant of the cruise ship owner and operator who were not parties to the employment contract which contained the arbitration provision.

Photo credit: Pepin AcademiesDr. Craig Butz, 52, of Altamonte Springs was operating a personal watercraft with his 4-year-old daughter as a passenger when his jet ski collided with a center console boat operated by Thomas Carey, 67, of Clearwater. The collission happened near 941 Bay Esplanade near Clearwater Beach around 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. Dr. Butz was taken to Morton Plant Hospital in critical condition where he died upon arrival. His 4-year-old daughter was airlfited to Bayfront Health Hospital where she remains in critical condition. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is currently investigating the incident.

Dr. Butz was Executive Director of Pepin Academies, a charter school for children with learning disabilities. We extend our deepest sympathies to Dr. Butz’s family and loved ones and wish his young child a speedy recovery.

 

Tug_Boat_Accident_Case-300x228An injured tug boat captain has been awarded over 3 Million dollars due to a slip and fall accident.  In August of 2015, the plaintiff was a tug boat captain.  His job duties included steering the vessel and supervising the crew.  On the morning of the accident, the tug was pushing two loaded chemical barges towards a fleeting area.  At approximately 5:00 a.m. the captain was awakened by the sound of the tug’s engines backing down.  He left his bunk in his athletic shoes and went to the helm to assist the pilot who was struggling to align the barges in the fleeting area.  He took over the controls and radioed for another tug in the fleet to assist.  With help from the assisted tug, the plaintiff was able to straighten the barges.  As the captain was about to return to his cabin to prepare for his upcoming shift, a deckhand reported that diesel or some other fluid was spraying from a generator in the engine room.  The captain determined that the safest approach to handle the situation was to simply switch generators rather than using the emergency kill switch as that would cause the entire tug to lose power.  In order to switch generators, the captain was required to manually shut off the leaking generator which was accessible only from the engine room floor.  The captain proceeded down the ladder followed by the deckhand.  Upon reaching the engine room deck both the captain and deckhand slipped and fell on accumulated diesel sprayed from the generator.  From this fall, the captain sustained a severe hip injury including a fracture to the right femoral head.  The injured captain required emergency surgery where four screws were placed in his hip to stabilize and reduce the femoral fracture.  The captain also injured his lower back.

Unseaworthiness of the Tug

It was later learned that the leak was caused by a faulty fuel pressure gauge.  The stem which connected the gauge’s valve to the fuel filter housing had sheered in half which caused diesel to spray from the hole.  From this, the Court found that the tug was not reasonably fit for its intended purpose and was therefore unseaworthy.  The tug company argued that the captain was comparably negligent as he entered the engine room in his athletic shoes and not the steel-toed boots required by the company’s safety policy.  The Court rejected this argument finding that the captain’s wearing of athletic shoes was not the legal cause of the accident as the deckhand, who was wearing the required steel-toed boots per the company’s safety policy, also slipped on the leaked diesel.   The tug company next argued that the captain was negligent for his decision to enter the engine room to manually switch the generators as opposed to shutting down power to the tug via the kill switch.  This argument was also rejected.  The Court, applying  maritime law precedent, found that in emergency situations a seaman’s actions cannot be judged as they would be in ordinary circumstances.  The Court then reasoned that the captain had to choose between shutting off all power to the tug, which was pushing two loaded chemical barges towards the fleeting area, or entering the engine room to see if he could stop the leak by switching generators. Under these circumstances, the Court determined that the captain acted reasonably and was not negligent by entering the engine room.