Barge workers feared imminent death during Hurricane Katrina, suit claims

Steve Gonzalez Jul. 16, 2007, 8:11am

The pilot and chief engineer of a barge named M/V Ann Peters filed suit against Teco Barge Lines in U.S. District Court July 16, alleging they were injured during Hurricane Katrina.

Tyree Webb and Wayne Crockarell claim that on Aug. 29, 2005, they were ordered by Teco to transfer to the M/V Anita M, just before New Orleans was struck by the hurricane.

According to the complaint, the M/V Anita M is an inland river towboat, 170 feet long by 45 feet wide with diesel engines with a maximum of 6,800 horsepower.

"The M/V Anita M was not designed, equipped or intended to protect crew members from the force of a hurricane," the complaint states.

Webb and Crockarell claim Teco's policy required the evacuation of its vessels when a hurricane was imminent, however they allegedly required the crew to remain on board of the vessel for the duration of a hurricane.

They claim they obeyed that order and remained in the "zone of danger" for the hurricane for the next three days in which the hurricane battered the vessel for hours and caused significant damage that required emergency pumps to be set up in order to avoid sinking.

"The force of the storm caused plaintiffs to make violent contact with various portions of the vessel and caused them to be battered, bruised and otherwise physically injured," the complaint states.

Webb and Crockarell also allege the storm required them to remain on-duty around the clock causing them to become sleep deprived.

"Both plaintiffs frequently believed that their own deaths and the deaths of other crew members were imminent," the complaint states. "By virtue of being required to remain on the vessel in the face of the perilous conditions posed by the hurricane, both plaintiffs were placed in tremendous fear for their lives and physical and mental well being for an extended period of time."

Webb and Crockarell claim that once the storm was over, they were sent to Metropolis, Ill., where they received counseling through Teco's employee assistance program instead of transporting them to a psychiatric facility with licensed staff.

They claim Teco violated the Jones Act by failing to use reasonable care to avoid injuring them, failing to provide them with adequate medical attention, failing to provide a safe place to work and failing to provide adequate tools and training to perform their assigned tasks.

Webb and Crockarell claim they sustained injuries and damages including:

  • bruising, battering, and other transitory physical ailments;

  • emotional distress, anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental affliction;

  • past and future wage loss;

  • medical, nursing, psychiatric, therapeutic and other expenses of reasonably necessary medical treatment, diagnosis, therapy and care in the past;

  • permanent and total disability; and

  • being rendered more susceptible to future injury.

    Represented by Roy Dripps of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, Webb and Crockarell are seeking "fair and reasonable" compensation under the circumstances, attorney fees, taxable costs, prejudgment interest and other relief as justice may require.

    The case has been assigned to District Judge David Herndon.

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