United States v. Egan, No. 15-2485 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
A barge exploded in 2005, while under way between Joliet and Chicago with a cargo of slurry oil. Deckhand Oliva did not survive. Claiming that Egan, master of the tug that had been pushing the barge, told Oliva to warm a pump using a propane torch, the United States filed a civil suit. Open flames on oil carriers are forbidden by Coast Guard regulations. The judge determined that the government did not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Oliva was using a propane torch at the time of the incident. There was no appeal. Two years later, the government charged Egan under 18 U.S.C.1115, which penalizes maritime negligence that results in death, plus other statutes that penalize the negligent discharge of oil into navigable waters. The judge found that the prosecution had established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Egan gave the order to Oliva, that the torch caused the explosion, and that Oliva died and that the barge released oil as results. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court has said that the outcome of a civil case has preclusive force in a criminal prosecution. If the government could not prove a claim on the preponderance standard, it cannot show the same thing beyond a reasonable doubt.