Towboat Deckhand Blamed for Accident That Crushed Hand

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DISCLAIMER: The results are specific to the facts and legal circumstances of each of the clients' cases and should not be used to form an expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client's case.

Michael was acting as a deckhand on a tugboat off the coast of Louisiana, working for the same maritime employer he’d worked with for many years. He was guiding and pulling rope from an electric spool while the boat captain was operating the equipment on the other end and paying out the rope. During this process, the captain mistakenly reversed the winch, and Michael’s left hand was pulled into the machine. The accident crushed his middle, ring, and pinkie fingers, and his treatment required a partial amputation of all three fingers. Following the accident, he was unable to work for approximately three months as he recovered.  

Deckhand’s Injury Case Falls Under Complicated Jones Act Laws

Because Michael was working offshore at the time of the accident, his case for compensation fell under the Jones Act instead of workers’ compensation laws. While these maritime laws are designed to protect the men and women who work in dangerous environments on towboats, offshore oil rigs, and other vessels, they can also be much more complicated than work injury laws on land. This type of case calls for a deep knowledge of the specific laws that apply to the situation, as well as experience with what working offshore or on a vessel is really like.

Although Michael reached out to a lawyer shortly after the accident, that lawyer immediately referred him to Attorney Wes Gralapp because of his extensive knowledge of and experience with maritime and Jones Act cases. Part of the expertise Wes brought to case included his own strong family ties in the maritime industry, as his father and brother were both tugboat captains. Wes knew very well that these workers operate in dangerous conditions every day, and he knew that Michael deserved to be compensated for what had happened to him. Wes was able to counsel Michael early on in the case and provide one-on-one support, from beginning to end.

Insurance Company Denies Liability and Blames the Victim

The company paid Michael’s legally mandated “maintenance and cure” for seamen, but that was not the end of Michael’s story. During the legal process, the insurance company disputed the employer’s liability and argued that Michael was to blame for the accident because he put himself in a position of danger near a “pinch point.” Through deposition and testimony from experts, we showed that he was not in a “pinch point position,” and we hired experts in maritime safety to testify regarding the manner Michael was instructed to handle the rope. We also showed that the captain in charge had full view of Michael and could have ordered him further down the line if he felt Michael was in a position of danger. Under the Jones Act, the captain is in charge of—and is responsible for—the safety of all crew members.

A Brighter Future After a Tragic Offshore Accident

With Wes’ experience, knowledge, and hard work, the case was ultimately settled in Michael’s favor for $225,000, which compensated his pain, suffering, and lost wages. As a result of the settlement, Michael was able to recover from his injuries, pursue the opportunity to get his captain’s license, and return to work captaining ships instead of working as a deckhand. 

Regarding Michael’s case, Wes said, “It gives me a certain sense of pride that I was able to use the knowledge and skills I’ve learned to help someone who has been injured. I feel a loyalty to people who have been hurt offshore because of my family upbringing and understanding of the dangers offshore workers face.”

Maritime workers face many dangers every day, but their employers aren’t always there for them or follow the law when an accident happens or someone is hurt.

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Wesley J. Gralapp
With over 25 years of experience, Attorney Wesley Gralapp helps personal injury victims throughout Louisiana.