Mooring Line Snap Back
On a beautiful spring day, John, an able-bodied seaman, and a member of the Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific, was assigned the duty of handling a mooring line on the stern of a roll-on/roll-off ferry. He was working directly under the supervision of the boson, who even told him where to stand. Without warning, the seven-inch mooring line parted and snapped back like a giant slingshot. It hit him across both legs and shattered all four long bones in both legs. The force of the blow dashed him to the deck. His head slammed into the steel deck. He suffered a skull fracture and bleeding inside his brain. The captain knew that John's legs were broken because John was lying on the deck, but his feet were flat on the deck, as if John were still standing.
Although John was severely injured, with excellent medical care and time he made an excellent recovery. John hired us to represent him in his Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims against his employer.
We conducted extensive discovery about the reason the mooring line failed. It turned out that one of the reasons was that the capstan that John was using exerted a lot more force than the mooring line could take. Also, the boson was using the line and capstan to warp the ship next to the dock, and the main engine may have been engaged, idling ahead. The combination of the force of the capstan and the engine on the mooring line was too much, and it snapped back.
We filed suit against John's employer under the Jones Act and the general maritime law for negligence and unseaworthiness. We claimed that the employer was negligent because it used a capstan that had the power to part the mooring line. We also claimed that the employer failed to provide John with a safe place to work. Finally, we argued that the ship was unseaworthy as a matter of law, because the mooring line parted in normal and expected use.
Not too long before the employer had to face a jury, the parties sat down at a mediation to see if the case could be settled. After long and protracted negotiations, John agreed to accept $1.5 million to settle his case.
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