Articles Posted in Commercial Fishing Injuries

IMG_8848-300x200On January 31, 2019 at approximately 10 p.m., the F/V SCANDIES ROSE sank near Sutwik Island, Alaska with seven crew members on board.  According to a news release by the U.S. Coast Guard, two survivors were rescued and five crew members remain missing from the 130-foot crab fishing vessel.  When the Coast Guard arrived at the scene, visibility was almost zero but they were able to see the faint lights of the life raft holding the two rescued crew members.  The search for the missing crew members included a span of 1400-square miles with weather reported at the scene of 60 mph winds.  The Coast Guard used four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, two HC-130 Hercules airplane crews, and the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon in an attempt to find the missing crew members.  After 20-hours of searching, the U.S. Coast Guard made the difficult decision to suspend the search for the missing crew on January 1, 2020 at 6:08 p.m.

At the time of the incident, our law firm was involved in pending litigation in King County Superior Court against the vessel for alleged unsafe crab pot stacking practices that led to a career-ending crew injury.  The captain of the vessel had recently given a deposition in the crab pot stacking case on December 12, 2019 and some of the other crew members were witnesses in the case.  In his deposition, the captain gave extensive testimony about his crab pot stacking practices.  Our lawyers and expert boarded the F/V SCANDIES ROSE in Seattle on May 18, 2019 as part of the investigation into the case and inspected the vessel and its equipment.  Because the stability of the F/V SCANDIES ROSE in icing conditions may be a substantial issue in the investigation into the sinking, the testimony of the captain and other evidence collected in our case could be important to the investigation and any litigation.  Our sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of the missing crew members.  By all accounts, they were brave men doing a difficult job and they will be deeply missed by all.

Under the Jones Act, the personal representative of the estate of a seaman lost at sea may bring a cause of action for wrongful death for the benefit of (1) a surviving spouse and children; (2) parents; and (3) dependent next of kin.  45 U.S.C. § 59.  Common law spouses may recover, if, looking to applicable state law, the existence of common law marriage is recognized.  The recoverable damages for wrongful death under the Jones Act include damages for loss of financial support, loss of nurture and guidance to minor children, loss of service, and pre-death pain and suffering.  See e.g., Centeno v. Gulf Fleet Crews, Inc., 798 F.2d 138 (5th Cir. 1987).  If you have questions about the remedies available under the Jones Act for wrongful death, feel free to contact our law firm for a free consultation to discuss maritime law remedies under these circumstances.  Because of the complexity of these issues and the unique nature of maritime law, it is important that you consult with an experienced maritime injury law attorney.

On September 5, 2018, in Hoffas v. American Seafoods Company, King County Superior Court Cause No. 17-2-01150-9 SEA, a King County Superior Court judge held that American Seafoods was “. . . negligent for failing to provide [the injured seaman] with a safe place to work on March 2, 2016 because the access to the mid-ship crane control was not reasonably safe, violated the company’s own policies, and violated relevant industry standards, without handholds . . .” on board the F/T AMERICAN DYNASTY.

The injured combination worker was ordered to operate the starboard mid-ship crane to assist with deck operations.  The mid-ship crane was a knuckle-style crane with the capacity to reach all parts of the trawl deck.  The crane was stowed in a cradle forward of the crane when it was not in use and can rotate 360-degrees.  It was equipped with a wireless remote control that allows the crew to operate the crane from anywhere on the deck to stay out of the weather and avoid having to climb up into the control tower.  Unfortunately, the remote control was not available on March 2, 2016 because it was broken or the chief engineer had taken it out-of-service to avoid the crew misplacing the unit.  Because he could not use the remote control, Hoffas had to climb up into the control tower using a fixed ladder on the base of the crane pedestal and then transfer 90-degrees to a fixed ladder that extended up to the control tower.  When Hoffas had finished using the crane, he attempted to descend down the fixed ladder from the control tower.  There were no hand-holds for the lower ladder.  As he stepped down from the top ladder trying to rotate 90-degrees to the top rung of lower ladder, Hoffas slipped on the first rung of the lower ladder and fell hard 3-5 feet to the deck.  The distance between the bottom rung of the upper ladder and top rung of the lower ladder was at least 17-inches down and 4.18 inches over.  Hoffas testified that the upper ladder was loose from striking the bulkhead on the other side of its rotation multiple times and that a control cord was wrapped around the rungs of the upper ladder.  During the fall, Hoffas twisted his left knee and was seriously injured.  The photograph below shows the ladders coming down from the control tower:

The Ladder Violates American Seafoods’ Own Safety Standards.

 NortherJaeger-300x199It’s that time of year again.  The holidays are over and you’re going back to work on a factory trawler up in Alaska for “A-Season.”  Whether you’re a returning crew member or a greenhorn, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of your legal rights before going up to Alaska on a factory trawler.  Failure to protect or know your rights before you leave can seriously impact your ability to get fair compensation if you are injured.  Here are the top 10 things to know about your legal rights before going back to work:

  1. Report Your Injury. If you get injured on a factory trawler, you need to report the injury as soon as possible in writing.  Some leads or supervisors will try to delay or discourage you from filling out an accident report in order to limit the number of claims filed against the company.  You should insist on filling out an accident report immediately.  Remind your supervisor that company policy requires you to fill out an accident report following an injury.
  1. Fill Out An Accident Report. Fill out an accident/incident report even if you believe the injury will resolve quickly.  Some injuries that you initially believe will resolve quickly can turn into larger issues that may lead to surgery.  You are not a doctor and don’t know if your injury will become more serious than you believe at first.  If you fail to fill out an accident/incident report in a timely manner, the company may try to deny your claim because you did not report it.

Scene-Photos-003-300x199Maintenance is a daily stipend intended to cover the room-and-board expenses of a maritime worker injured in the service of a vessel, including seafood processing and deckhands on factory trawlers owned by American Seafoods Company.  An injured worker is entitled to maintenance payments until the worker reaches maximum medical improvement from the injury. Based on contracts it drafted, American Seafoods has callously taken the position that injured workers are entitled to only $30.00 per day for maintenance payments while they recover from injuries sustained on its vessel, regardless of whether their actual room-and-board expenses exceed $30.00 per day.  Other seafood processing companies have allowed for higher living maintenance rates based on an employee’s actual room-and-board expenses.  American Seafoods’ position against its own workers has now been rejected in cases brought by our clients in both state and federal courts in Washington.

On November 28, 2016, King County Superior Court Judge Sue Parisien ordered American Seafoods to pay maintenance of $78.43 per day to an injured seafood processor represented by Kraft Davies Olsson PLLC while he recovered from partial knee replacement surgery due to an injury at work.  In ruling against American Seafoods, Judge Parisien ruled:  “American Seafoods has not cited any valid basis in fact or law allowing it to limit plaintiff’s maintenance rate to $30 per day, when plaintiff’s actual room and board expenses total $78.43 per day.”  Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees Incurred in Pursuing Unpaid Maintenance at 3 ll. 7-10.  The Court further ruled:  “American Seafoods’ ongoing denial of maintenance, which forced plaintiff to hire counsel to pursue benefits which he is plainly owed, is willful.”  Id.  The court went on to award the injured seafood processor attorneys’ fees for the cost of increasing his maintenance rate from $30.00 per day to $78.43 per day.

This is the second time this year that a court has rejected American Seafoods’ attempts to limit maintenance payments to $30 per day and provides hope to injured workers who struggle to meet their expenses while off work due to an injury on an American Seafoods vessel.  Earlier this year in Sabow v. American Seafoods Company, USDC Western District of Washington Case No. C16-0111-JCC, the Honorable John C. Coughenour ruled that American Seafoods could not limit maintenance payments to $30 per day and must reimburse injured workers based on their reasonable actual room-and-board.  American Seafoods has now appealed the issue to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Exito-300x182On Friday, December 6, 2016, at 9:38 p.m., the crew of the F/V Exito contacted the U.S. Coast Guard reporting that they were taking on water 14 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.  Five crew members were aboard when the vessel sank and a nearby vessel, the Afognak Strait, was able to rescue three crew members from the water.  The U.S. Coast Guard responded with the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley and a Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak.  Unfortunately, the other two crew members were not found and remain missing.

After searching for the crew for three days, the U.S. Coast Guard called off the search on December 9.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the missing crewmembers of the F/V Exito.  The investigation into the details of the sinking of the F/V Exito remain under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The crew of the F/V Exito is covered under the Jones Act.  If you have questions about your right to compensation under the Jones Act, contact our experienced maritime injury and death attorneys for a free consultation.

DSC_8358On November 9, the U.S. Coast Guard received a request for a medevac from F/V BLUE NORTH, a Seattle-based fishing company, when a 41-year-old crew member sustained a neck injury while working on the vessel.  Neck and spinal injuries can be serious and can lead to permanent disabilities.  Due to the nature of the injury, a U.S. Coast Guard flight surgeon recommended an emergency medevac from the vessel to a trauma center.  At the time of the incident, the vessel was approximately 285 miles northwest of St. Paul in the Bering Sea and steamed toward shore to meet the helicopter.  Taking off from Air Station Kodiak, a Jayhawk helicopter flew to Cold Bay to hoist the injured fisherman off the fishing vessel and the crew member was transported to the hospital for emergency evaluation and treatment.

At this point, there are no details about the cause of the crew member’s injury.  Fishermen injured on fishing vessels are entitled to coverage under the federal Jones Act, which covers seamen, fishermen, and other maritime workers injured on boats and ships.  Under the Jones Act, an injured fisherman may be entitled to lost wages and damages for pain, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life.

If you are injured on a fishing vessel, it is important that you notify your employer of the injury and fill out an incident report.  In the report, you should describe exactly how you were injured, what unsafe condition contributed to your injury, and provide the names of all witnesses that were present at the scene of your injury.  It is important that you obtain prompt medical attention following an injury.  You have the right to select your own medical providers and do not have to go to doctors selected by the fishing company.  While you receive medical treatment for your injuries, the company has an obligation to pay you a daily stipend called “maintenance” to cover your room-and-board expenses on land.  The company is also obligated to pay for all medical expenses related to your injury or illness that are designed to improve your condition.

article-alaska-2-0726According to news reports, 46 crew members were forced to abandoned ship when the Fishing Company of Alaska factory trawler F/T ALASKA JURIS began taking on water and sinking off the coast of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands yesterday.  The U.S. Coast Guard was notified at 11:30 a.m. that the vessel was in distress and taking on water.  The crew got into survival suits and deployed in three survival life rafts.  The U.S. Coast Guard reports no injuries and the entire crew was reportedly transferred from life rafts in the water to merchant ships in the area.

The 220-foot F/T ALASKA JURIS began taking on water approximately 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor.  After the crew abandoned ship, two of the lift rafts were secured to the sinking vessel in an attempt to keep the rafts from drifting away.  A third raft with another 18 members of the crew was unable to tie up to the vessel and was adrift.  Crew members in all three rafts were eventually picked up by the good Samaritan merchant vessels SPAR CANIS and VIENNA EXPRESS.  The crew was loaded onto the vessels by 8:20 p.m. and was in route to Adak, Alaska according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The cause of the vessel taking on water is under investigation by the Coast Guard, but preliminary information points to potential mechanical problems in the ship’s engine room that caused the vessel to lose power.  Weather at the scene was reportedly calm with limited visibility due to heavy fog.

On May 24, 2016, a federal court in Seattle rejected American Seafoods Company’s attempts to limit the maintenance rate to the $30 per day set forth in the employment contract. American Seafoods took the position that it would not pay our client more than the $30 per day set forth in the contract even though our client’s actual room-and-board expenses exceeded the contracted rate. As a result of the decision, American Seafoods can no longer limit its workers to the $30 a day set forth in its contracts and each worker is entitled to present evidence of their actual room-and-board expenses to establish their maintenance rate. This is a significant victory for American Seafoods seafood processors and other shipboard workers.

In finding in favor of our client and rejecting the rate set forth in the company’s contract in Sabow v. American Seafoods Company, USDC W.D. Wa. Case No. C16-0111-JCC, the Honorable John C. Coughenour adopted a burden-shifting test articulated by the Second Circuit in Incandela v. Am. Dredging Co., 659 F.2d 11, 14 (2d Cir. 1981). Under the Incandela burden-shifting test, a “seaman makes out a prima facie case on the maintenance rate question when he proves the actual living expenditures which he found it necessary to incur during his convalescence.” Incadela, 659 F.2d at 14. Once the seaman makes the proper showing, the burden shifts to the vessel owner to produce rebuttal evidence. Incandela, 659 F.2d at 14. In order to rebut the prima facie evidence presented by a seaman, the company must make a showing that the seaman’s expenses are unreasonable: “. . . Sabow need not find the cheapest accommodations – his accommodations need simply be reasonable.” Because American Seafoods failed to show that Sabow’s expenses were unreasonable, he was entitled to all of his living expenses under the doctrine of maintenance.

American Seafoods Company had further argued that the seaman’s living expenses should be prorated to take into account the fact that other family members lived in the apartment. Rejecting American Seafoods argument once again, the Court held that the amount of the seaman’s living expenses should not be prorated or otherwise reduced if he lives with other family members. In reaching this conclusion the Court reasoned that a seaman who pays for the rent or mortgage of a home he shares with his family actually spends out-of-pocket the entire amount. He cannot pay any less without losing his home. If a seaman would incur the lodging expenses of the home even if living alone, then the entire lodging expense represents the seaman’s actual expenses. Sabow v. American Seafoods Company, USDC W.D. Wa. Case No. C16-0111-JCC, Docket #30 at 12, citing Hall v. Noble Drilling, 242 F.3d 582, 589 (5th Cir. 2001).

On January 19th, a commercial fishing boat, named the Eagle III, sank at the entrance to Coos Bay after colliding with the north jetty.  The 40-foot crabbing boat, based out of Port Orford, Oregon, contained four members. The vessel’s captain is the only known survivor of the wreck, while the U.S. Coast Guard found the remains of one of its members, amongst a large debris field, and searched for the remaining two members.  Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America and we are proud to represent many of these very hard workers who routinely put their life on the line.


A vessel may be rendered unseaworthy because of improperly maintained surfaces that are slippery and are prone to cause injuries. Compare Nicroli v. Den Norske Afrika-Og Australielinie Wilhelmsens Dampskibs-Aktieselskab, 332 F.2d 651, 654 (2d Cir. 1964) (affirming finding of unseaworthiness where wet and melted sugar had made the deck slippery), Troupe v. Chicago, D. & G. Bay Transit Co., 234 F.2d 253, 258 (2d Cir. 1956) (holding that triable issues of fact existed as to whether the vessel was unseaworthy because certain steps “were so painted and maintained as to be excessively slippery, especially when covered with water from a rain”), Courville v. Cardinal Wireline Specialists, Inc., 775 F. Supp. 929, 936 (W.D. La. 1991) (finding unseaworthiness “because of the absence of non-skid tape or some other appropriate skid resistant surface on the steep steps”), Jiminez v. United States, 321 F. Supp. 232, 233 (S.D.N.Y. 1970) (finding unseaworthiness where de-greaser solvent created a slippery condition and  [26] was allowed to remain unwiped while the workers lunched elsewhere without roping off the ladder or putting up any warning), and In re Sirret Offshore Towing Co., No. 96cv1228, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13408, 1997 WL 539923, at *4 (E.D. La. Sept. 2, 1997) (finding that the vessel was unseaworthy in part because of the lack of anti-skid paint or mats), with Santamaria v. The SS Othem, 272 F.2d 280, 281 (2d Cir. 1959) (holding that “a deck made slippery [only] by rainwater does not constitute an unseaworthy condition”); See Drejerwski v. C.G. Willis, Inc., 587 F. Supp. 1515, 1517 (E.D. Pa. 1984) (holding that the jury could properly have found the barge owner negligent because the barge owner should  have known that the epoxy paint used on the barge would be “dangerously slippery in inclement weather” and “should have chosen a non-skid paint instead”).

If you sustain an injury as a result of a slippery condition on deck, it is important that you document what you slipped on in the incident report and take photographs of the condition, if possible.  You should also obtain the contact information for all witnesses who were present at the time of your injury.  Slips and falls out on deck are a common cause of serious injuries that can be prevented with regular maintenance of the deck and application of non-skid surfaces.

Contact Information