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Jury Awards 1.35 Million to Injured Alaska Crab Fisherman

A Seattle jury awarded 1.35 Million dollars in damages to an Alaska Crab Fisherman, David Zielinski, who suffered a severe hand aboard the F/V TIME BANDIT in January of 2013. The Jones Act injury case alleged the Zielinski’s employer was negligent in instructing Zielinski and other crewman aboard the TIME BANDIT to shoot powerful mortar type fireworks at an adjacent crab fishing vessel. As Zielinski was holding the lighted fireworks device in his hand it exploded breaking multiple bones in his right hand and arm.

The TIME BANDIT is one of the featured Alaska crab boats on the popular television show “Deadliest Catch”. The vessel is owned by New Era Alaska and Time Bandit Inc. The vessel was operated by the Hillstrand brothers, John and Andy. In various episodes of the Deadliest Catch TV show the crew has been depicted lighting fireworks aboard the vessel. The vessel had its own fireworks packaged with the TIME BANDIT name.

A You Tube video posted on the Internet shows the Time Bandit and the Northwestern, another Deadliest Catch vessel, engaged in a firework fight on a separate occasion. The video appears to depict crewman holding mortar type devices, large roman candles in their hands and firing rockets and mortar shells between the two vessels.  A fair viewing of this video raises the question of not whether a crewman will be injured but rather when.

Under maritime law, a vessel owner has an absolute duty to provide his crewman with a safe place to work and a seaworthy vessel. These maritime duties include the duties to supervise the crew and to properly train the crew in safety matters. It is difficult to understand how a fireworks war could be considered a safe practice. The Deadliest Catch is made for television production and fireworks fight was arguably part of Zielinski’s assigned duties as a crewman and he was following directions of the captain at the time of his injury.

Attorneys for Zielinski argued that the Discovery Channel film of Zielinski’s fireworks injury went missing and had the film been produced it would have shown Zielinski was directed to shoot the fireworks at the CAPE CAUTION. Another issue raised was admitted allegations there were initial discussions by Johnathan Hillstrand suggesting that Zielinski claim the injury occurred in a fishing accident as opposed to a   fireworks accident.

Zielinski claimed that his hand and arm injuries prevented him from returning to work as a commercial fisherman. Attorneys for the Time Bandit argued that Zielinski had suffered no future lost wages and had returned to work shore as a side metal worker. The jury deliberated for one week before returning a verdict of 2.7 million dollars and reduced the verdict by approximately one half for Zielinski’s comparative fault.