Hand Caught In Bait Chopper
Bait chopper injury cases can be severe. In October 2000, Brian was a 20-year-old deckhand on a crab vessel. Being the young, less experienced deckhand, he was appointed the "bait boy." This job included chopping the frozen bait and stuffing the bait into jars, which would be placed into the crab pots. The bait is chopped in a rather crude machine called a "bait chopper." The machine is affixed to the aft side of the house (this was a house forward vessel). Frozen bait is dropped into the top of the machine. There is a wheel with blades in the machine which, when turned on, spins around and chops the bait. The chopped bait drops out the bottom of the machine.
The problem here was that the bait routinely got plugged in the machine. When it did, the bait would not drop out and would turn to useless mush. So, Brian and others would carefully open up a canvass flap that covered the discharge opening and reach into the bottom side of the machine, being careful not to get too close to the spinning wheel of blades. Brian would scoop out the bait so the rest of the bait could be chopped.Long Hours Are Hazardous
Those of you who have been on crabbers know about the hours and working conditions. Before IFQs, crabbers would routinely work 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, this work takes place in extreme conditions. Even though crabbers say they get used to these conditions, there is simply no question that the human body can take only so much. There is no question that sleep deprivation affects your judgment.
After approximately six days of doing his job as bait boy, including reaching into the bottom of the bait chopper to routinely clear to machine, Brian suffered a horrible injury. Brian, basically a walking zombie at this point, was doing his job clearing the bait chopper. His hand got just a bit too close to the spinning wheel. His glove got caught and his hand got sucked into the chopper. There was no shut off switch close by. A fellow deckhand heard the scream and ran over to shut off the bait chopper. By that time, Brian had lost his thumb and about half of his hand.How We Were Able To Help
Brian needed experienced maritime attorneys. Our Seattle-based firm was willing to help. The boat owner argued that the injury was all Brian's fault. We knew better.
- First, we argued that the bait chopper was not a safe design. It got plugged up on a regular basis, requiring constant clearing. The fast pace of the work did not lend itself to shutting off the machine every time it clogged. In addition, the bait chopper should have had a "limit" switch, which would have shut down the wheel when the opening cover was lifted.
- Second, we argued that the crew's working conditions created an environment where an accident was just waiting to happen. Experts know that sleep deprivation can cloud the judgment. We were able to explain, by hiring world-renowned experts, how Brian's lack of sleep made him numb to the danger of reaching into the machine.
After putting our case together with the best experts in the field, we made a demand to settle the case. Where he insurance company first stuck its head in the sand and claimed that Brian was 100% responsible for his injuries, we were able to "educate" the insurance company to the errors of their thinking. We settled for over $2 million.
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