Roadblock to Jury Trial Cleared in Death of a Young Maritime Worker in Case Prosecuted by Schlichter, Bogard & Denton

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On November 27, 2013, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky entered an order clearing the way for trial in a case involving the death of a 28 year old maritime worker. The case is Estate of Christopher Mink vs. GCM, LLC and Carmeuse Lime and Stone, Inc., Case:2:12-cv-000510DLB-CJS (Doc. 112).

The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, and addresses the rights of seamen injured on the job at sea

According to the Order, Christopher Mink was assigned to work as a replacement deckhand on the M/V Anna C for his employer, GCM, LLC, at the Carmeuse Lime and Stone’s Black River Dock on the Ohio River near Cincinnati on Saturday, December 17, 2011. Doc. 112 at 1–2. As Mink attempted to disconnect a cable used to close the cover on a loaded barge, the cable suddenly went taut, crushing Mink, and causing his death. Doc. 112 at 2. His family retained attorney Nelson G. Wolff, a partner at Schlichter, Bogard & Denton (SBD) to investigate the case and obtain compensation from the responsible parties. Suit was filed on February 10, 2012 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Covington against GCM under the Jones Act and against Carmeuse under general maritime laws. See Case Doc. 1. SBD’s investigation uncovered evidence indicating that the Carmeuse operator was working without supervision for the first time that day and tightened the cable with a winch because she thought she heard another deckhand direct her to do so. Doc. 112 at 2. The Order noted that the GCM towboat pilot, who also was a fill-in for this Saturday extra job, admitted that he was not supervising Mink as he attempted to disconnect the cable. Doc. 112 at 2. The Order notes that he also admittedly failed to tell Mink whether he should be using a different procedure to disconnect the cable. Doc. 112 at 2–3. GCM and Carmeuse filed answers denying any responsibility and blaming Mink for causing his own death. Docs. 33, 43, 102-3. They also filed cross claims against each other, seeking indemnity under a Harbor Boat Service Agreement. Docs. 33, 43. GCM filed a motion for summary judgment against Carmeuse, claiming that Carmeuse was solely responsible. Doc. 102. However, on November 27, 2013, the court denied GCM’s motion. Doc. 112. Judge David L. Bunning held that “a factual determination as to causation [at trial] must precede any determination of indemnity obligations under th[e] Agreement.” See Estate of Christopher Mink vs. GCM, LLC and Carmeuse Lime and Stone, Inc., Case No. 2:12-cv-000510DLB-CJS (Doc. 112) 10. According to Mink’s attorney, a jury trial is expected to be set in 2014. Mink was survived by his minor daughter. Doc. 1. The case seeks compensation for the daughter’s loss of economic support from Mink, as well as the value of pain and suffering caused by the traumatic injury. See First Amended Complaint, Case Doc. 27.

For over 40 years, the attorneys at Schlichter, Bogard & Denton have represented maritime workers who sustained injuries working on the inland rivers and coastal waterways. The Jones Act is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, and addresses the rights of seamen injured on the job at sea. Similar to the law applicable to injured railroad workers, the Jones Act affords seaman a compensation remedy for on duty injuries caused by unsafe or negligent working conditions. It is vastly different from the State Workers' Compensation laws and other maritime laws like the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, provide payments regardless of employer negligence. Under the Jones Act, a worker must prove that employer negligence played some part in causing a seaman's injuries. Once proven, damages flowing from negligence can be much more substantial than under Workers Compensation Acts. Maritime workers may also hold employers liable for unseaworthy vessels without proving negligence. As such, it is very important to consult only with an experienced Jones Act attorney. The Mink case illustrates some of the complexities involved in handling these cases.
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