The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a maritime employer’s attempt to deny a deceased crewman’s family $400,000 in damages awarded for the crewman’s predeath pain and suffering. The maritime death case involved a truck mounted drilling rig on a barge in a Louisiana Bayou. The truck was not properly secured and toppled over crushing one crewman to death and injuring another.
Although the employer admitted negligence and unseaworthiness the employer made the argument that the crewman did not have conscious predeath pain and suffering after the drill rig fell and crushed him. The Court of Appeals rejected the employer’s argument finding ample circumstantial evidence that the seaman had moments of terror and freight as he attempted to escape from being crushed by the falling oil rig. Eyewitness testimony showed that the crewman was aware of the danger and running for his life immediately prior to the impact, and photographs at the scene showed that his body was positioned in a defensive manner trying to protect himself. An expert pathologist also testified that the deceased crewman would have been conscious for several minutes after the impact.
The case, McBride v. Estis Well Service, 2017 WL 1321979, confirms the maritime law principle that a seaman’s predeath pain and suffering, terror, freight and fear of death are compensable damages even if only momentary in nature.