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$500,000 Settlement - Fall From Vessel With No Gangway

Lack of a gangway

A tugboat captain fell into the harbor while getting off of his tugboat, and suffered multiple injuries. The factual issues of the case concerned whether or not the method of getting on and off the tugboat was safe.

As can be seen from the photographs, attempting to get off of this vessel and over all of the splintered, broken and missing boards on the pier, with gaps in between, created a hazardous situation. A gangway, or ramp, leading from the vessel to the pier would have provided a safe means of traversing this hazardous area.  However, custom and practice in the industry, which is often used to establish the applicable standard of care in a boating accident case, was that no gangway was required. Coast Guard regulations were silent on the issue.

Accordingly, in this Jones Act case, we looked to OSHA regulations, which sometimes can be used in the absence of Coast Guard regulations to demonstrate what the law requires.  OSHA regulations stated that for land-based workers, such as longshoremen who load and unload vessels, a gangway was required. By using OSHA regulations, we not only demonstrated that the lack of a gangway created an unreasonably hazardous situation, but were able to excuse the fact that the tugboat captain was not wearing a required lifejacket, and obtained a $500,000 settlement.

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