Barge worker's trial postponed six months

Steve Gonzalez Jul. 7, 2005, 3:34pm

Steven Hutchens, who filed a Jones Act claim against Lewis & Clark Marine of Granite City in June 2002, will have to wait until January 23, 2006 for his trial to begin. A jury trial was set to begin July 11, but Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron rescheduled it.

Hutchens claims that on June 18, 1999, he injured himself after he got caught in the noose of a line between two motor vessels while working on the M/V Clydesdale. The incident took place near Lock 27 on the Mississippi River in Madison County.

According to the complaint, Hutchens was employed by Lewis & Clark for only two weeks before the alleged incident.

He claims Lewis & Clark failed to provide him with proper training, supervision, assistance and danger warnings.

His suit alleges extensive left leg injuries--it was nearly severed at the foot, Hutchens says. He has had numerous surgeries and faces the strong possibility of reccurring osteomylitis.

Hutchens is seeking damages for lost wages, a loss in earning capacity, pain and suffering and medical expenses.

According to the suit, Hutchens also is seeking damages from Western Kentucky Navigation claiming it failed to have an adequately trained crew on its vessel. He blames them for not warning Clydesdale crew members of its movements and failed to take appropriate action when he became entangled in the line connecting the two vessels.

Hutchens is seeking at least $250,000 in damages. He is represented by Alton attorney Bob Perica.

The Jones Act is a federal statute that requires vessels used to transport cargo and passengers between United States ports be U.S. owned, built and manned.

It also allows injured sailors to obtain damages from their employers for the negligence of the ship-owner, the captain or fellow members of the crew. The act operates simply, by extending similar railroad worker legislation already in place apply to sailors.

Like other workers’ compensation laws, the Jones Act entitles injured sailors to what the Act calls "transportation, wages, maintenance and cure."

The employer or ship-owner must get the sailor home, pay him wages while unable to work, and provide medical care for his injuries until the sailor has recovered. If the sailor's injuries are the result of negligence, whether by the employer, captain, or another crew member, the sailor may be able to obtain damages for pain and suffering from the employer or ship-owner as well.

The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995), has ruled that any worker who spends more than 30 percent of his time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act. An action under the Jones Act may be brought either in a U.S. federal court or in a state court.

Although the Jones Act protects seamen, it is not the same as workers' compensation. It does not require payment regardless of fault. In order for a worker to recover under the Jones Act, a worker must prove some negligence or fault on the part of the vessel's owners, operators, officers, or fellow employees or by reason of any defect in the vessel, its gear, tackle or equipment.

The Jones Act does not allow claims for loss of consortium or companionship.

Under the Jones Act, injured workers also are entitled to maintenance and cure regardless of who was at fault.

Cure obligates the owner to pay for all reasonable medical care related to all medical conditions which manifest while one is working on a vessel until recovery from work-related injuries.

Maintenance requires employers to pay workers' land living costs equal to the manner of living offshore on the vessel while under medical care. It is generally between $15 and $30 dollars per day.

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