Maritime Personal Injury: $11,695,000 Bench Trial Result, Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC.
Jay Rivera was a harbor pilot in Corpus Christi. He was at the very highest level of his career in one of the most prestigious jobs in the maritime community. Growing up as a boy in Puerto Rico, his life-long dream was to become a captain on the ships that called on his hometown of Ponce. He pursued this dream and ultimately succeeded. But not only did he become a captain, he became a ship pilot in Corpus Christi, Texas—which is one of the most coveted jobs among all pilots. For ten years, Captain Rivera worked as a pilot until what appeared to be a minor tragedy struck. He broke his left foot while entering the house of a sea-going tug and barge unit. Unfortunately, Captain Rivera’s foot failed to heal properly, and he developed a nerve disorder known as Complex-Regional Pain Syndrome which left him disabled. He was unable to pass his Coast Guard physical, and the State of Texas revoked his coveted Pilot Commission. Captain Rivera could have hired any of the countless lawyers in Texas or the country to help him, but he chose Paxton Crew.
The tug was owned by one of the largest shipping companies in America, Kirby Offshore Marine. After inspecting the vessel, they discovered the entry way Captain Rivera had to walk over had a defective design which created an uneven surface that was difficult to see. This rendered the vessel unseaworthy. When Captain Rivera entered the tug, he could not see this uneven surface and when he stepped down, his foot rolled awkwardly, breaking the bone in his left foot. Paxton Crew sued Kirby and the tug in Federal Court in Galveston, Texas, alleging that he was what is known as a Sieracki seaman—someone who is not actually employed by the ship, but does the same job as a crewmember. Many lawyers believed this theory to be dead, and Kirby’s lawyers scoffed at the theory. Kirby’s lawyers argued that Captain Rivera was at fault for wearing sunglasses, and that he could not prevail on an unseaworthiness claim because he was a longshoreman. It was not until the case was ready for trial that Kirby offered Captain Rivera $1,000,000. This is a significant amount of money in most cases, yet Captain Rivera rejected the offer and proceeded to trial.
What occurred was a complete vindication for Captain Rivera and the theories advanced by Paxton Crew. The Court found that Captain Rivera was a Sieracki seaman, and awarded him $11,695,136.00 in damages, and found that Kirby was 100% at fault for his injuries. This was a far cry from Kirby’s offer of $1,000,000 and blaming Captain Rivera for wearing sunglasses. Following this decision, Kirby appealed, and again, they offered nothing to resolve the case. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and subsequently Kirby offered to settle the case for the full value of the judgment.