Commercial fisherman slips on deck, injures back
The plaintiff, a commercial fisherman for more than 40 years, was 61 at the time of the incident. Five years prior to the accident, the plaintiff injured his back on land, underwent a spinal fusion, and returned to fishing about three months after his surgery.
For the next five years after his spinal fusion, the plaintiff worked on a scallop vessel as a deck hand.
The plaintiff was picking up the pile of scallops that had been dumped on the deck. After he filled his basket with scallops, he lifted the basket and turned to his left to carry it to the shucking house. The plaintiff testified that he felt something under his foot, made another one to two steps on the deck, and then slipped and fell backwards, landing on his right side on a rock on the deck.
Liability focused on the fact that the work deck of the vessel was not equipped with an effective non-skid surface such as a nonskid paint or deck tiles. Standard marine practice is to provide functional non-skid coating on the decks of vessels to prevent slips and falls. The working deck on the vessel reportedly was bare steel or worn composite and was slippery and hazardous.
The plaintiff claimed that his fall aggravated his prior back problems, caused a T12 compression fracture, and caused new areas of persistent pain and problems.
After the fall, the plaintiff was extremely limited in activity and was sedentary due to the pain. As a result, he developed acute deep vein thrombosis of right lower extremity and multiple clots in both lungs. The pulmonary embolism eventually resolved, but the plaintiff still has chronic clots in right lower extremity, swelling, shortness of breath, and dizziness due to fatigue.
The plaintiff went from working heavy physical labor as a scalloper at age 61 to barely being able to walk upstairs without becoming out of breath.
The plaintiff had planned to work fishing until age 70. As a result of the injury, he was completely disabled from returning to work.
The defendant argued that the cause of the plaintiff’s fall was a rock he stepped on. That was based on a statement the captain wrote and which the plaintiff signed while steaming back to port after the accident.
Further, the defendant argued that the plaintiff would have worked only a couple more years due to his back issues, and, at the time of the incident, the plaintiff’s back pain was pre-existing and the clots were not related to the fall.
Injuries alleged: Aggravation of pre-existing back pain from prior spinal fusion, deep vein thrombosis in legs, pulmonary embolism
Case name: Withheld
Court/case no.: Withheld
Jury and/or judge: N/A (settled)
Date: Dec. 28, 2022
Attorney: Carolyn M. Latti of Latti & Anderson, Boston (for the plaintiff)