Published: January 11, 2013
By: Frederick B. Goldsmith
In Harrington v. Atlantic Sounding Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2988 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 7, 2013), Brooklyn-based U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon found Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. and Weeks Marine, Inc. negligent under the Jones Act and the tug M/V CANDACE unseaworthy under the general maritime law. She found no contributory negligence. She awarded Frederick J. Harrington Jr., 52 at the time of the accident, $478,948 in past lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, $500,000 for past pain and suffering, and $700,000 for future pain and suffering.
The accident occurred on April 10, 2005, while the CANDACE was offshore Panama City, Florida, and its crew was moving a submerged pipeline. Before the crew could move the pipeline, though, it had to lift the anchors attached to the ends of the pipeline, a process called “anchor pulling” or “line pulling.” The court discussed how, to “lift the anchor, a tugboat is required to position itself near a buoy, floating on the surface of the water, which is connected by a pennant wire to the anchor on the floor of the ocean.”
Judge Gershon was persuaded by Harrington’s maritime expert, Mitchell Stoller, who testified that the tug should have been positioned to minimize vessel movement during the operation, which movement could cause the crewmen working on the deck “to get jerked or lose their balance or [get] hurt.” The court described how the accident occurred, as follows:
“As plaintiff and [another crewman] began the process of retrieving and lifting the line anchor, plaintiff was tasked with using the boat hook to capture the pennant wire, while [the other crewman] held the winch cable and hook. [The tug’s First Mate] had maneuvered the boat so that it was abeam to the sea, and therefore the boat was rolling back and forth. The rolling, combined with the wet stainless steel deck and the open stern, left plaintiff standing in an awkward position. After plaintiff captured the pennant wire and pulled the buoy toward the boat, he was crouched in a wide stance, in order to maintain his footing while leaning forward to retrieve the pennant wire’s eyelet. After retrieving the pennant wire, while attempting to connect it to the trip hook, the boat moved out of position, causing the pennant wire to go taut, which twisted plaintiff’s back causing the injury in question. Nevertheless, because there was slack in the winch cable, plaintiff was able to make the connection with the trip hook and successfully complete the task.”
Judge Gershon found the defendants negligent because the First Mate failed to ensure Harrington was in a position to perform the task safely and failed to maintain the tug in a proper position. The judge found the M/V CANDACE unseaworthy because the entire crew “had very limited experience pulling line anchors through floating buoys on a tug with an open stern,” and that the First Mate, who was at the wheel, “had none.” Further, the crew was “working on a brand new vessel unlike any that defendants had previously launched and which was designed for a task different from that in which the three were engaged.” Also, “defendants provided no training, no assessment of the risks, and provided no instruction on how the task might be performed safely or how plaintiff might position himself while attempting to pull an anchor without a stern on which to brace himself. Finally, and most importantly, defendants failed to train [the First Mate] on how best to position, and keep in position, the tug while plaintiff was pulling the anchors.”
A neurosurgeon diagnosed Harrington with a herniated lumbar disc and right foot drop, that was a result of a severely compressed nerve in his lower back. Harrington underwent two surgeries: An L4-L5 diskectomy, followed by an L4-L5 fusion. The fusion involved removal of the spinal disc and implantation of a carbon-fiber cage, fastened with screws to the bone above and below the disc space.
Judge Gershon determined Harrington’s loss of enjoyment of life was significant. She found he “can no longer do any of the activities that he did prior to the injury, including fishing, maintenance of his home, walking on the beach, scuba diving, or riding a bike. In addition, because of his limitations regarding sitting and walking, plaintiff is substantially confined to his home and has gained a significant amount of weight. Plaintiff attempted to take computer classes, so that he would be able to work a computer, but was unable to take the class because he could not sit for the required period of time.”