Second Circuit Court of Appeals Decision Bars Economic Recovery in Absence of Physical Injury

Maritime law covers waterways that intersect with other modes of transportation. Accidents, injuries, and other economic losses can occur as easily in canals, ports, or bays as they do in the open sea. The state of Washington has 17 moveable bridges that are controlled and operated by the state's Department of Transportation. Federal law dictates that marine traffic is given the right-of-way over vehicular traffic, but some restrictions on marine openings exist for certain locations. A bridge like the First Avenue South Bridge in Seattle restricts marine openings during the weekday rush hour times of 6 A.M. to 9 A.M. and 3 P.M. and 6 P.M., but allows openings at other times during the day, any time on weekends, and any time on federal holidays. Openings can be requested by calling the bridge tender. Coordination is essential with these openings, and any delays or problems with bridge openings can create unwanted injury or economic impact for crew members and vessel owners.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that prevented a tug boat company from seeking damages based on the city's failure to open a drawbridge. The city could not open the barge because of a mechanical malfunction, which was alleged to be the result of the city's negligence. The barge company was chartered to tug a boat, but was delayed two and a half days due to the failure to open up the drawbridge when it traveled downstream. The owner of the barge alleged this delay cost the company $28,828.00 worth of economic losses, but acknowledged there wasn't any physical property damage. The Court of Appeals relied on established maritime law precedents that prevents recovery when there is an unintentional maritime tort and physical injury is absent and limited to economic loss.

Unlike commercial vessel owners who are limited in the types of recovery for economic loss, several avenues of legal and financial relief are available to crew members who suffer physical injury. Tug boat and barge workers are entitled to damages under the Jones Act in addition to maintenance and cure. Recovery may include doctor's expenses, physical therapy costs, lost wages, pain and suffering and diminished earning capacity. Vessel owners who do not maintain safe, seaworthy vessels and third party entities who negligently own or operate bridges may all be liable for the injuries sustained as a result of their reckless and unsafe actions.

The Washington tug and barge injury attorneys, Gordon Webb and John Merriam, have several years of combined experience as maritime law attorneys and merchant seamen. They understand the life of a crew member and the hardships that are faced when one is out of work due to an injury sustained on the job. Our lawyers provide aggressive representation and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. If you have been injured while working onboard a tug, barge, or other commercial vessel, contact one of our offices in Bellevue (425.454.3800) and Seattle (206.729.5252) for a free confidential, consultation today.

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