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Maritime Wrongful Death

Speed boat

Inland waterways such as the Ohio River, Kanawha River and Big Sandy River provide an important means of interstate commerce and a great source of recreation.

Unfortunately, speed boats sharing relatively narrow river channels with towboats and barges can result in highly dangerous circumstances. Ohio River tows can include five lengths of barges that extend approximately one thousand feet out from the towboat pilot house. The towboat captain or pilot may not be able to see the pleasure craft operator approaching his tow of barges. The driver of the speed boat or jet ski may not see or fully appreciate the danger of the approaching towboat and barges. While a speed boat operator may see running lights on the towboat in the distance, he/she may not appreciate the fact that a wall of steel can extend the length of more than three football fields out from the pilot house.

The United States Coast Guard requires minimal lighting on the head of a tow of barges. Small, portable green, amber and red lights at the head of the tow may go unseen amidst dead spots and shadows on the river. The head of the tow where portable navigation lights sit may be just a few feet above the water level on a loaded barge. The portable navigation lights on an empty barge may sit ten to thirteen feet above the water level. If a tow of barges includes empties and loads on the head, some of the portable navigation lights may sit a few feet above the water level and others sit thirteen feet up in the air.

A collision between a speedboat and towboat barges frequently results in fatalities for the speedboat operator and passengers. When such a collision occurs, the towboat company typically dispatches claims personnel and attorneys to the scene of the accident. While the family of the victim grieves, the towboat company prepares its defense.

If an accident occurs on navigable waterways such as the Ohio River, Kanawha River, Licking River, Big Sandy River and Green River, a maritime wrongful death cause of action may be available to the administrator of the victim’s estate.

If a towboat captain or pleasure craft operator violated maritime duties, and this violation resulted in a death on the water, the administrator of the decedent’s estate may be able to prosecute a claim. An analysis of maritime rules of the road is required to fully appreciate liability aspects of the claim. Although federal maritime laws may apply to issues of liability, the Court may look to Kentucky, Ohio or West Virginia state law to determine issues of damages in a wrongful death case.

Working on towboats, Great Lakes vessels and maritime landings is difficult and dangerous. Even when a crewmember is exceedingly careful, serious accidents and work related deaths occur. Maritime wrongful death actions are complex. They require an understanding of the Jones Act, General Maritime Law and the Longshore Act.

Wrongful death actions require proof of liability/fault against the employer or vessel owner. The successful litigant must also position the case to maximize damages. In addition to collecting damages for loss of support to the seaman’s dependents, a personal representative may prosecute a survivor’s claim for damages, including pain and suffering, endured by the seaman prior to death.

Steven Schletker grew up in a river family. He knows what it is like to have a family member leave for a 28 day hitch on a towboat on the Ohio River. In addition to evaluating the law and applying the facts of your case, the law office of Steven Schletker will act with compassion and understanding to your circumstances. If you have lost a loved one as the result of a maritime wrongful death injury feel free to contact Steven Schletker for a free initial consultation at (800) 254-7487.