Groton Pacific Carriers, Inc. v. JacksonAnnotate this Case
This appeal arose from an accident that occurred on the Mobile River. Groton Pacific Carriers, Inc., and International Tanker Management Holding LTD. ("ITM") appealed a judgment in favor of Carl Jackson, as personal representative of the estate of Carl L. Williams, deceased, and as next friend of Camren Lamarcus Williams, Jayden Eugene Williams, and Cartez Labruce Williams, minors; and Edward L. Purdue. Purdue and Williams were working for Mo-Bay Shipping Services, Inc. as line handlers. In 2008, they were dispatched by Mo-Bay to meet the ocean-going tanker MT Glenross. They were to use a Mo-Bay boat to transport the Glenross's steel mooring lines from where the Glenross was anchored to shore-side bollards located a few hundred yards away. The accident occurred while Purdue and Williams were handling one of the Glenross's mooring lines. As a result of either a mechanical problem with the ship's winch or improper operation of the winch by the Glenross's crew, the mooring line continued to be reeled in, and the boat Williams and Purdue were in, which was connected to the line, was pulled out of the water and up the side of the Glenross's hull. Williams and Purdue held onto the boat as it was lifted from the water. The boat, however, broke free from the line, fell into the river, and capsized. Williams and Purdue, who were not wearing life vests, fell into the water. Purdue was able to climb atop the capsized boat and was rescued. Williams, who could not swim, drowned. Count one of the complaint alleged that Purdue and Williams were "Jones Act seamen" and asserted a Jones Act claim against Mo-Bay. Count one additionally alleged general maritime-law claims of negligence and unseaworthiness against Groton Pacific, ITM, and Cypress. Count one also made an alternative claim that Purdue and Williams were longshoremen and/or harbor workers entitled to recover from Groton Pacific, ITM, and Cypress under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Count two of the complaint asserted claims under Alabama law, including a wrongful-death claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Jackson and Purdue. The jury also found Purdue and Williams guilty of 25% comparative fault. On appeal, Groton Pacific and ITM argued that the trial court erred in ruling before trial that Williams and Purdue were harbor workers. Groton and ITM argue that that ruling led the trial court into a number of subsequent legal errors, including incorrectly charging the jury, particularly with respect to the type of damages available, and refusing to allow the jury to apportion any fault to Mo-Bay. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in ruling as a matter of law that Williams and Purdue were harbor workers. The case therefore was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.