Jury Awards $5.75 Million to Families of Dock Workers

A Mobile, Alabama jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs in a port accident that killed one worker and seriously injured another. Work accidents attorneys help protect worker’s rights by pursuing the incident, identifying the root cause, and ensuring justice is served for the victims.

After more than a week of trial, the jury awarded $5.75 million to Edward Purdue, who was seriously injured, and the family of Carl Williams, who died during the accident. In June 2008, Williams and Purdue were performing duties on an oil tanker on the Mobile River when the devastating accident occurred. The men were helping the tanker enter into the Port of Mobile when their 17-foot aluminum boat, which was attached to a rope on board the tanker, began pulling in the wrong direction, yanking the boat out of the water and throwing the workers in. The aluminum boat crashed into the water just moments after the men fell in and landed on top of them. Williams drowned at the scene.

The families sued Groton Pacific Carriers and International Tanker Management Holding, two shipping companies responsible for the oil tanker’s commercial and technical management services, respectively. The plaintiffs claim the companies were not only legally responsible for the accident, but lied about their role in it. The companies argued that the workers and their employer, Mo-Bay Shipping Services, were to blame for the accident, citing that Williams was not wearing a life jacket, and claiming that Purdue could have used a boat hook to fix the rope.

The two men were allegedly screaming for more slack when then winch began pulling in the wrong direction. The winch moves only with manual effort from a worker, who must push a lever and hold it in place for the winch to operate. One worker on board the oil tanker testified that he occasionally left the controls to perform other tasks, and that he did not hear the men screaming for more slack.

The case was tried under maritime law, which allows juries to allocate blame for a death. The jury actually agreed with both sides, and assigned 25% responsibility on both Williams and Purdue. $3.3 million was awarded to the estate of Carl Williams and $270,000 to Purdue. Additional punitive damages in the amount of $1.75 million were awarded to William’s estate and $400,000 to Purdue. The awards will be reduced by 25% each in accordance with jury-assigned responsibility.

Had the incident occurred away from the dock, the trial would have been conducted under Alabama state law. In contrast to maritime law, state law dictates that any amount of blame juries assign to accident victims negates any awarded damages. Had state law applied, the judge would have advised the jury to rule in favor of the defendant if they thought the plaintiffs bore any responsibility in the incident. The plaintiffs initially attempted to sue to owner of the oil tanker, Cypress Glennross, although they were not able to go to court because the San Francisco-based company has not signed a maritime treaty to allow such actions.

Work accident lawyers highlight this case because it illuminates the need for companies to recognize and accept responsibility for accidents like these. This fatal incident was entirely avoidable, and worker safety must be the top most priority for any employer. If you or someone you love was seriously injured in a work-place accident, you have important legal rights. The esteemed wrongful death lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm offer free consultations to those families who lost a loved one in a work-related accident.

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