Wrongful Death Suit involving Coal Carrier Colliding with Vessel

A failure to follow proper safety measures at sea resulted in a wrongful death settlement.

A 29-year-old woman was working as a cook aboard a sailing vessel, the Essence. Early one morning, the Barkald, a bulk coal carrier with an estimated weight of nearly 49,500 deadweight tons, collided with the Essence. In the aftermath of the collision, the Essence became hung up broadside on the Barkald’s bow. Crew members aboard the Essence were able to safely evacuate from the vessel to the water, but when the Essence broke free from the Barkald’s bow and started to sink, the cook, an individual named Bortolott, was pulled underwater and drowned. She is survived by her parents.

Ms. Bortolotti had earned about $42,000 annually, and her estate claimed between $1.35 million and $1.99 million in lost earnings.

Bortolotti’s parents, individually and on behalf of her estate, sued the shipping company that operated the Barkald, the pilot, the pilot’s association, and the Essence’s owner and pilot. Plaintiffs alleged the Barkald’s crew failed to follow the proper safety measures appropriate to the circumstances. Plaintiffs claimed that a light was out portside on the coal carrier, limiting visibility as it navigated past the Essence. Plaintiff’s also alleged that the vessel’s master failed to obey the captain’s order to post a lookout at the bow because of the vessel’s size and crane obstructions on deck. Because no one was stationed at the bow, plaintiffs argued, no one was able to foresee the inevitable collision. Finally, it was alleged that the Essence failed to follow established rules associated with international navigation.

Defendants argued that their liability was restricted by the pecuniary loss rule under the Jones Act, under which there would be no loss because Bortolotti was without dependents.

Plaintiffs and defendants settled before trial for $5 million. The shipping company’s insurer paid $3 million, and the Essence’s insurer contributed the remainder. An intriguing aspect of this case is that it resembled a responsibility scenario often applicable to vehicle mishaps on land, in cases where a measure of blame is shared between defendants.

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