On December 22, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a decision in the case of Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC. Affirming a district court’s ruling, the federal appeals court granted an injured sea captain $11,695,136.00 in financial compensation in an “unseaworthiness” claim against a Houston, Texas based offshore company. In this article, our Texas maritime law attorneys provide an overview of the case.
Case Analysis: Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC
From the Summer of 2007 through the Summer of 2018, Jay Riveria was a state-commissioned sea captain. In August of 2016, he was dispatched on a vessel to an oil dock located in the Corpus Christi Harbor. While boarding another vessel, Mr. Riviera suffered serious injuries after tripping and falling—breaking a bone in his left foot.
Eventually, he also was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and declared medically unfit to work as a sea captain. The fall accident occurred aboard a vessel owned and operated by Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC. With headquarters in Houston, Texas, Kirby Offshore is the nation’s largest operator of coastal tank barges and towing vessels.
The Maritime Injury Claim
Mr. Rivera filed a maritime injury lawsuit against Kirby Offshore Marine on the grounds that his trip and fall accident happened because the vessely was “unseaworthy.” To prevail in an unseaworthiness claim, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant “failed to provide a vessel, including her equipment and crew, which is reasonably fit and safe for the purposes for
which it is to be used.” In this case, Mr. Rivera argued that his trip and fall accident was caused by:
- He had to go through an engine room which was not properly illuminated; and
- He tripped and fell over an improperly unmarked hatch door.
For its part, the maritime company tried to defend the claim on two separate grounds. First, the defendant noted that Mr. Rivera was wearing sunglasses. The defendant emphasized that his contributory negligence was a significant factor in causing the accident. In addition, the defendant argued that Mr. Rivera is covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)—and therefore cannot bring an unseaworthiness claim.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision on all grounds. In doing so, it affirmed a $11.6 million award for the sea captain’s loss of future earning potential. The court found that Mr. Rivera’s act of wearing sunglasses was not negligent, as he had just stepped off a boat on a sunny day. Further, as Mr. Rivera was not an employee of a company, he was not covered by the LHWCA.
Contact Our Texas Maritime Lawyers for Legal Guidance and Support
At the Kolodny Law Firm, our Texas maritime injury attorneys are committed to protecting the rights and interests of victims and their families. We will help you maximize your financial support. If you or someone you know was hurt while working on an unseaworthiness vessel, our legal team can help. Contact us now for a no cost, no obligation review of your case. From our office in Houston, we provide maritime law services throughout Southeast Texas.