A quick look through the Casualty News section at ProfessionalMariner.com shows that there’s a never-ending stream of marine incidents and accidents, large, small and in between. Many are never even given more than an investigation-by-phone by the Coast Guard, let alone thoroughly reported on by the media. But they happen all the same. When the inevitable “shit happens” you can bet that lawyers will very rapidly be involved. Generally, it’s understood that our legal system has evolved into a lottery system whereby those seeking redress, rightfully or not, will almost always go for the target with the deepest pockets in an attempt to score big financially. But this process can also involve the time-tested and proven shake-the-tree-and-see-what-falls-out strategy. No one wants to potentially leave money on the table, so you can be assured that when something goes wrong anyone and everyone involved will be dragged into it, then slowly sorted through to get to what are viewed as the choicest prizes. While we are normally not that “prize” we are almost always a significant part of the bigger picture and can be used as a means to get at the real prize, so count on being deposed, sued, indicted or otherwise harassed. Then there is always the Coast Guard’s suspension & revocation / civil penalty gauntlet that you may be forced to run through. It won’t be pleasant.
Conventional theory says that you’ll always be defended “to the end” by your employer. That’s because to throw you under the bus right away for your sins is to admit that they shouldn’t have had you working for them in the first place. Then they’ll face full liability for their lack of due diligence and oversight. Conventional theory isn’t always right, however, and there can be a big difference between theory and practice. At certain points along the way you may find that you and your employer can develop diverging interests and you may be left to defend yourself with only your own resources. Do you want to find this out the hard way?
Here’s a good example of what can go wrong and where it may lead. This incident in Sabine, TX occurred two years ago and resulted in a serious personal injury. Here’s the important part…..
To position the rig, McNeal had to use cables attached to the tug boats that would bring the vessel into the dock, according to the complaint.
While attempting to unhook a cable, McNeal tried to direct the drivers of the tug boats to let off the throttle of the tug boats, which would slacken the cable. However, the drivers of the tug boats instead accelerated, causing the cable to tighten, the suit states.
“As this occurred, the line whipped up where Ashley McNeal was located, and came into contact with his leg, resulting in severe and substantial injuries,” the complaint says.
“As a result of the tug boat taking the incorrect action and causing the cable to tighten, Ashley McNeal suffered numerous physical injuries including the tearing of numerous ligaments in his left knee. Ashley McNeal underwent numerous surgeries and suffered tremendously as a result of the injuries, surgeries, and rehabilitation.”
You should easily be able to see the potential danger in a case like this: the injured party claims that he asked for one thing, but got another. The alleged connection to the tug operator is very direct and clear, for both cause and effect. No reported equipment malfunctions or acts-of-god to blame this time. I’m in no way dismissing this man’s claim, by the way. It may well be perfectly valid, and he was definitely hurt quite badly. But I also know how poor communications can be in our working environment, and how often I’ve seen or been in close calls because of it. The truth is that there’s probably no way to ever know positively what was said by whom, what was heard, and who did what. That doesn’t mean that charges won’t be thrown everywhere to see what sticks, though. So…..
…..you might want to think about getting insurance. There are several providers and their links are located towards the bottom of our Info page. And remember that if you can’t get insurance at a group rate, via your employer or labor union, all MTVA members are eligible for a 10% discount from the Marine Officers Protection Syndicate (MOPS), so you might want to consider joining us. Just contact Ann Ryan at 800-782-8902 (Ext. 3608) or email@example.com and let her know you’re a member. You’ll never know for sure that you’re going to need it, until you need it.