Barge housekeeper hurt her wrist while making a bunk bed
Case Type: Jones Act, Workplace, Workplace Safety, Construction - Scaffolds and Ladders, Slips, Trips & Falls - Falldown, Admiralty/ Maritime - Unseaworthiness
Case: Laura Gonzalez v. Weeks Marine Inc. and Atlantic Sounding Company, No. DC-03-424
Venue: Starr County District Court, 229th, TX
Judge: Alex Gabert
Tony Buzbee; The Buzbee Law Firm; Galveston, TX, for Laura Gonzalez
Christopher K. Johns; The Buzbee Law Firm; Galveston, TX, for Laura Gonzalez
Aaron I. Vela; The Buzbee Law Firm; McAllen, TX, for Laura Gonzalez
William Donovan M.D.; Physical Medicine; Houston, TX called by: Christopher Johns, Tony Buzbee, Aaron Vela
Don Green; Maritime/Admiralty; Houston, TX called by: Christopher Johns, Tony Buzbee, Aaron Vela
Ken McCoin Ph.D., CFA; Lost Earnings; Houston, TX called by: Christopher Johns, Tony Buzbee, Aaron Vela
Amber Medina; Perez & Piette, PC; Brownsville, TX, for Atlantic Sounding Co., Weeks Marine Inc.
Baldemar Garza; Law Office of Baldemar Garza; Rio Grande City, TX, for Atlantic Sounding Co., Weeks Marine Inc.
Frank E. Perez; Perez & Piette, PC; Brownsville, TX, for Atlantic Sounding Co., Weeks Marine Inc.
John A. PopeIII; Atlas & Hall, LLP; Rio Grande City, TX, for Atlantic Sounding Co., Weeks Marine Inc.
Ignacio Garza CPA; Economics; Brownsville, TX called by: Frank Perez, Baldemar Garza, Amber Medina, John Pope
Gary Freeman M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Houston, TX called by: Frank Perez, Baldemar Garza, Amber Medina, John Pope
David Scruton; Maritime/Admiralty; Houston, TX called by: Frank Perez, Baldemar Garza, Amber Medina, John Pope
Richard Berg M.D.; Radiology; Morristown, NJ called by: Frank Perez, Baldemar Garza, Amber Medina, John Pope
Nancy Favolaro; Vocational Rehabilitation; New Orleans, LA called by: Frank Perez, Baldemar Garza, Amber Medina, John Pope
Once in November 2002 and again on May 20, 2003, plaintiff Laura Gonzalez, 50s, a cook and housekeeper on barges that serve as quarters for offshore dredge workers, was injured on the job. In 2002, she hurt her wrist while making a bunk bed. In 2003, she injured her neck when two 16- to 21-ounce cans of pie filling fell one to two feet on her head while she was taking inventory of a pantry.
The barges were in the Gulf of Mexico, near the lower Texas coast. Gonzalez's employer was Atlantic Sounding Co., Cranford, N.J., and the barges were operated by Weeks Marine Inc., Cranford, N.J.
Gonzalez sued Atlantic Sounding and Weeks Marine for negligence under the Jones Act, also suing Weeks Marine for unseaworthiness of the vessels. She alleged that the cans should not have been stacked up three feet, and that the small ladder she stood on to make the top bunks was unstable. She said that the ladder fell and then she hit her wrist.
Against Weeks Marine, Gonzalez alleged failure to pay all her maintenance and cure. She also alleged that Atlantic Sounding fired her in September 2003 to avoid paying for her future treatment. Another former employee testified that Atlantic Sounding did the same thing to him.
The defense removed the case, claiming that Gonzalez was not a seaman and that the barges were not vessels under the Jones Act, but the federal court disagreed and remanded. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
At trial, the defense argued that Gonzalez failed to report the 2002 incident, and that she could not have been hurt because she kept working until September 2003. She was not fired, the defense argued, she was laid off for reasons other than her injury claim.
The defense also contended that the cans could not have fallen because the barge would not roll enough.
After the 2002 incident, Gonzalez developed De Quervain's syndrome, or inflammation of the tendon sheaths on the medial side of her dominant wrist. After the 2003 incident, Gonzalez said that she sustained two herniations in the cervical spine.
Gonzalez underwent tendon-release surgery on her wrist, and a second wrist operation was recommended. For her spine, a two-level fusion was recommended.
Gonzalez claimed medical specials of $40,000 past and future medical expenses of $250,000 with other economic loss of $100,000 past and $150,000 future (for lost wages and household services). Amounts for maintenance and cure, physical pain and mental anguish were unspecified. She said that her neck and wrist hurt sporadically and kept her from working. For attorney fees through trial to obtain maintenance and cure, Gonzalez claimed $100,000.
The defense disputed the damages. Defense admiralty expert David Scruton testified that the pie filling cans could not have caused the herniations. With his consent, several cans were dropped on his head by Gonzalez's attorney, Tony Buzbee, during cross-examination, while Scruton sat on the floor in front of the jury box.
Defense orthopedic surgery expert Gary C. Freeman said that he used a particular method of identifying symptom magnification. Buzbee introduced a book by the method's originator, and argued that Freeman had the method wrong.
Verdict Information: The jury found Weeks Marine and Atlantic Sounding negligent; that the vessels were unseaworthy; that Gonzalez's damages were $870,000; and that her attorney fees for maintenance and cure were $100,000 through trial.
$40,000 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost
$250,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost
$100,000 Personal Injury: past economic loss
$80,000 Personal Injury: past physical pain
$125,000 Personal Injury: future economic loss
$100,000 Personal Injury: future physical pain
$100,000 Personal Injury: maintenance and cure
$75,000 Personal Injury: past mental anguish
$100,000 Personal Injury: attorney fees for maintenance & cure
September 7, 2007