Federal magistrate and jury find plaintiff misrepresented origin of injuries in Jones Act suit

Christina Stueve Hodges Oct. 4, 2012, 6:52am


A client of Alton attorneys Roy Dripps and Charles Armbruster was hit with a $97,110 judgment in federal court after a magistrate found the plaintiff misrepresented the origin of his injuries in a Jones Act suit against his employer.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams at District Court for the Southern District of Illinois entered the judgment favoring Hunter Marine Transport and against its former employee, Forrest W. Phillips, on Sept. 28.

The case involves Phillips' claims that he sustained injuries in April 2009, while employed by Hunter Marine as first mate aboard the M/V L.R. Chapman.

In the course of that litigation, Phillips testified that he injured his shoulder handling a wire cable and required surgery on his cervical spine several months later.

After first paying Phillips' medical bills, maintenance and wage supplements, Hunter's director of safety and risk management was told by another Hunter employee that the company should look into Phillips' claims, because "the alleged injury was not what it seemed," court documents state.

Court records also show that other crew members of the L.R. Chapman then were interviewed and said Phillips told them he was injured before boarding the Chapman but was going to try to get Hunter Marine to pay for his injuries by staging an injury on the job. With that information, Hunter Marine stopped further payments to Phillips and terminated his employment in November 2009.

Phillips filed suit five days later, seeking recovery of damages for his injuries under the Jones Act and general maritime laws. He did not request a jury trial.

Hunter Marine counterclaimed for what it paid Phillips and for punitive damages, and requested a jury decide its counterclaim.

Williams bifurcated the claims, setting Hunter Marine's claims for a jury trial and Phillips' claim for a separate bench trial later.

On Nov. 10, 2011, the jury ruled in favor of Hunter Marine, finding Phillips concealed or misrepresented material information about his physical condition with the intent of deceiving Hunter Marine Management into paying him benefits he was not entitled to, court records show.

In Williams' recent ruling, he found that Phillips lied about being injured on the job, according to Hunter Marine attorney Robert Nienhuis.

Williams concluded Phillips was injured sometime before boarding the L.R. Chapman, not while he was aboard the vessel.

He ruled that Hunter Marine was entitled to a refund of expenses it paid Phillips or on his behalf, in addition to punitive damages of $5,000.

Hunter Marine was also represented by Neal Settergren. He and Nienhuis are with Goldstein and Price, L.C. of St. Louis.

Court costs exceeding $3,000 could raise the award above $100,000.

United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, case number 09-cv-0997-SCW.

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Goldstein and Price
1 Memorial Drive
St. Louis, MO 63102

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