Two Workers Win $5.75 Million for Fatal Shipping Accident
A jury ordered two international shipping companies to pay $5.75 million for a drowning accident that killed one worker and injured another while they were docking an oil tanker at the port.
Carl Williams and Edward Purdue were on duty helping to bring the massive oil tanker Glennross into an Alabama port when a 17-foot boat attached to a rope on board the tanker let loose and sent the workers into the water before the skiff came crashing down onto them.
Williams drowned in the accident, and Purdue survived but was injured.
The families sued International Tanker Management and Groton Pacific, the two shipping companies that provided management services to the tanker.
The trial focused on a winch that controlled the amount of slack to the ropes. The winch turned in the opposite direction pulling the rope in the wrong direction.
According to testimony at trial, the two workers were screaming for more slack when the winch suddenly turned.
The workers’ attorney, Kendall Dunson, argued that there was no way the winch could turn on its own.
“In order for the winch to move, you have to push the lever. And in order for it to keep operating, you have to hold it in that position,” Dunson said.
He suggested that most likely the tank’s crewman rigged the controls by jamming something against the lever and left his post so he did not hear the men calling for more slack.
The crewman testified that he sometimes left the controls when he got busy with other tasks.
The companies blamed the workers’ employer and the workers themselves for the accident, arguing that Williams did not have a life jacket on and that Purdue could have used a boat hook to remove the rope connecting the Glennross to the skiff.
The jury agreed with both sides.
It awarded $3.3 million to Williams’ estate, and $270,000 to Purdue in compensatory damages, then added punitive damages against the shipping companies of $1.75 million for Williams’ death and $400,000 for Purdue’s injuries.
However, it put some of the blame on the two men, assigning 25 percent responsibility on each. The awards will be reduced by a quarter each. Under maritime law, juries can apportion blame for a death. If the accident had taken place away from a dock and fallen under Alabama state law, any amount of blame a jury assigns to an accident victim for his own injuries would erase any damages.
Dunson said his clients brought the lawsuit to learn the true circumstances of what happened that day.
“I think the family felt good just to find out what happened to their loved ones,” Dunson said.