Strange Facts, Great Case

Sometimes strange facts can add up to a great case. The facts can be legal. For example, early in my career I represented a truck driver client who had been badly injured when heavy cases fell on him when he opened the rear doors of the semi. The company that loaded the truck was likely negligent, but my client had received a whole lot of workers compensation (mostly medical benefits), and under Maine law the comp carrier had a huge lien on any third party recovery. So I’d be working for the insurance company, not for my client. The economics of the case simply didn’t make sense.

Until I investigated, and discovered that the workers comp had been paid out by a midwestern company, and under the unusual laws of that state the comp carrier had zero claim to what the injured worker recovered from the third party whose negligence injured him. My research gave us a cause of action and, in due course, a very nice recovery.

I just put a case with seemingly strange facts into federal court, that of a fisherman injured by a big shark that came up in the trawl bag and was dragged onto the work deck, where it partially escaped and whacked my client, hard. Bizarre, I thought when the client first told me what happened, and I wondered if the seemingly strange facts could be made to add up to Jones Act negligence or Unseaworthiness.

I consulted an expert who teaches commercial fishing for a university, and he told me the facts were not bizarre at all. In fact, it is not especially unusual for a big shark (or a turtle, big ray, huge seal, etc.) to come up in the bag, and that there is a proper way to deal with it which any captain should know. The technique leaves the animal in the water and does not bring it onto the deck, something to be avoided at all costs, and thus does not risk the injury my client suffered.

We negotiated, and had a pretty good offer – but not good enough. Now we are in federal district court, and I fully expect a great result.

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