Deckhand claims spinal injuries in suit against Great Lakes Dredge

Kelly Holleran Dec. 29, 2009, 4:00am

A man blames his spinal cord injuries on his employer who he says failed to supply him with an adequate work force and with seaworthy vessels.

Jeffrey Cobb filed a lawsuit Dec. 18 in Madison County Circuit Court against Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company.

Cobb claims he worked for Great Lakes and attempted to employ the help of two "inexperienced and physically small" deckhands to change out a swing wire on an anchor for the Dredge "America" on Sept. 30, 2007.

In order to complete the task, Cobb planned for one deckhand to hold the wire after Cobb had pulled a few inches of slack in it, then for the other deckhand to stand ready with a hammer and screwdriver to pop the shackle apart, according to the complaint.

"As long as one of the deckhands was available to hold the wire after plaintiff had pulled slack into it, plaintiff believed that this procedure would not be dangerous," the suit states.

So, Cobb began carrying out the task after informing the deckhands of his intentions. He pulled on the wire to place slack into it, then turned to a deckhand to hold the wire. However, neither deckhand stood nearby at the time, the complaint says.

"While holding the wire, Plaintiff felt a sharp pain in his lower back that radiated into his legs and he was forced to drop the wire," the suit states. "When he found the two deckhands, they were both talking on their cell phones."

Because of the incident, Cobb suffered injuries to his lower back, legs, spinal nerve roots and their associated structures; and experienced pain and suffering, he claims. In addition, he lost wages and incurred medical costs, according to the complaint.

Cobb blames Great Lakes for a number of negligent acts, including its failure to provide Cobb with a safe work place, its failure to comply with government regulations, its failure to provide safe tools and equipment, its failure to provide sufficient assistance and its failure to provide Cobb with adequate training.

In addition, Cobb says the Dredge "America" was not in a seaworthy condition when he worked on it.

Eventually, Cobb claims he sought medical treatment for his back injuries and could not return to work for 11 months. By August 2008, Great Lakes cleared Cobb to return to work.

But on Oct. 17, 2008, Cobb again sustained debilitating injuries while working on board a skidder for the defending company.

Suddenly, the deck of the skidder collided with another boat as workers attempted to take a pipe off a swivel that hung from the skidder, the suit states.

"Plaintiff was walking on the deck of the skidder when the M/V Beaver collided with the skidder," the complaint says. "The force of the collision knocked the plaintiff into a deck fitting. As plaintiff got to his feet, the M/V Greenville struck the skidder and again knocked plaintiff into the deck fitting. Plaintiff had excruciating back and leg pain and sought medical treatment later that evening."

As a result of the second incident, Cobb suffered nerve root impingement and other injuries to his lower back; experienced disability, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of function, pain and suffering; lost wages; incurred medical costs; and is more susceptible to future injury, the suit states.

Cobb blames Great Lakes for the incident, saying the company negligently failed to provide him with a safe work place, operated the M/V Greenville in a negligent manner and failed to provide him with sufficient warning of the collision.

In the four-count suit, Cobb seeks an unspecified judgment, plus costs, attorney's fees, pre-judgment interest and other relief the court deems just.

Roy C. Dripps of Armbruster, Dripps, Winterscheidt and Blotevogel will be representing him.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-1369.

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