$450,000: Boat Captain Gets Leg Caught In Unprotected Machinery

CASE DESCRIPTION: The Captain of a sportfishing boat was in the engine room performing urgent and necessary maintenance, when his pant leg was caught in an exposed rotating piece of machinery. He suffered severe and permanent injuries. The exposed rotating machinery violated maritime law, in that covers or guards are required on such machinery. Plaintiff brought suit against the boat owner for violation of that law and negligence per se.

RESULT: $450,000.00 total settlement

This is a personal injury Maritime Law matter arising out of an incident that occurred on September 16, 1995, when Thomas H. sustained severe and permanently disabling injuries to his right leg while acting in the course and scope of his duties as captain of the 65-foot sportfishing vessel, “Sundown”. The incident occurred when Thomas H. was performing urgent and necessary maintenance in the engine room and his pant leg got caught in an exposed rotating “drive shaft coupler” (a piece of machinery that connects two rotating shafts which run from the boat’s starboard engine to the starboard propeller—thereby providing propulsion for the boat).

The Defendant in this matter is the owner of the ship, John S. Plaintiff contended that the defendant violated Coast Guard safety regulation 46 C.F.R. 177.35-15(a), which requires “Suitable covers, guards, or rails shall be installed in way of all exposed and hazardous places such as gears, machinery, etc. . . .” This violation caused Defendant to be liable to Plaintiff for an “unseaworthy” condition under the Jones Act, and also under the theory of Negligence Per Se. Additionally, Plaintiff contended that Defendant was unable to place any percentage of comparative fault upon Plaintiff under the case of Fuszek v. Royal King Fisheries Inc.

Defendant John S. was well aware of the dangerous condition of the exposed drive shaft in the engine room of the vessel. Indeed, rather than merely remedying the problem by placing the inexpensive and simple covers on the shafts (that would have prevented the incident) John S. instead warned crew members on the ship of the danger and stated that the covers “just got in the way.” The problem with this, however, was that a prior owner of the same vessel, Irv G., nearly had his leg ripped off due to the same dangerous condition back in 1988. Defendant John S. was well aware of the prior Grisbeck incident, and still failed to remedy the dangerous condition.

John S. premised his defense on the Plaintiff being comparatively negligent in getting his leg caught in the spinning shaft, which was an open and obvious danger that Plaintiff was well aware of. With regards to damages Defendant argued that no further knee replacement would be necessary and that Plaintiff could still be a boat captain.

TYPE OF CASE: Maritime Personal Injury

INJURIES: He suffered a compound fracture about six inches above the ankle, and third degree burns on the back of his leg from ankle to hip. He also sustained a severe knee injury, leading to chronic ligamentous insufficiency and degenerative arthritic wear. He has already undergone four surgeries on the leg, and will soon have a fifth (hardware removal) and sixth (total knee replacement). In addition, a second knee replacement is anticipated within seven to fifteen years after the first.


PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 37 at time of incident.

OCCUPATION: Boat Captain

Darren O. Aitken & Richard A. Cohn
For Plaintiff – Thomas H.

Russell P. Brown
For Defendant – John S. d/b/a Sundown Sportfishing

DEFENDANT INSURANCE CO.: Arnold & Arnold, Inc.