Kreindler Wins Wrongful Death Suit Involving Navy Seaman
- Kreindler partner Daniel O. Rose successfully represented a Navy seaman’s family during a federal trial against a tugboat operator.
- The case involved a 19-year-old United States Navy seaman who was killed during nighttime military training exercises.
Family of Teenage Navy Man Killed on Virginia’s James River Wins Federal Trial Against Tugboat Operator for Wrongful Death
Federal Judge also holds U.S. Navy largely responsible for the death. This case signals a need for tugboat operators to reevaluate safety guidelines for lperating on U.S. waterways.
NEW YORK, NY, December 22, 2009 - After a four-day trial, a federal judge ruled on Friday in
favor of the family of Freddie Porter, Jr., a 19-year-old U.S. Navy enlisted
seaman from New Jersey who, in 2007, was killed when the small craft carrying him
was overrun by a tugboat pushing a large flotilla on Virginia’s James River.
The tug, owned and
operated by Vulcan Materials Company, collided with the Rigid Hull Inflatable
Boat (RHIB) carrying Mr. Porter as he engaged in nighttime military training
exercises. The court
found the United States Navy 80% responsible for Mr. Porter’s death and Vulcan
20% responsible, awarding Mr. Porter’s family $1,250,000.
Attorneys for the victim’s family
believe the judge’s ruling against Vulcan and the Navy will have widespread
implications for the nation’s tugboat operations in U.S. waterways. Mr.
Porter’s family was represented by Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, the New
York-based maritime and aviation law firm.
Improper Lookout Posting and Inexperienced Naval Crew Lead to Death
accident occurred on the James River near Jamestown Island, Virginia, the evening of
October 11, 2007. Upon collision, Mr. Porter was sucked under the water beneath
the 600 feet of the flotilla’s eight barges and was eventually killed by the
tug’s propellers. Judge
Henry Coke Morgan, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Virginia found in
the wrongful death suit that Vulcan was liable for failing to post a proper
lookout aboard the tug/barge flotilla, which otherwise would have prevented the
collision. The judge held the U.S. Navy liable for assigning an inexperienced
crew with inadequate supervision aboard Mr. Porter’s vessel.
tragic accident which resulted in the wrongful death of Mr. Porter reveals
safety shortcomings in the tugboat industry which merit immediate
attention,” said Daniel
O. Rose, a partner at Kreindler who represented Mr. Porter’s family at trial.
“Our investigation of this incident found that easily correctable
operational changes in how and where safety lookouts are posted on tugs and
barges would greatly improve the safety conditions for all boats in the
vicinity of tugboats as they traverse the nation’s waterways,” noted Mr.
Rose, a veteran of the U.S. Navy as well as a licensed commercial multi-engine
airplane and seaplane pilot.
was tried by the Kreindler firm and its co-counsel on the case, Breit,
Drescher & Imprevento of Norfolk, Virginia, on behalf of Ms. Cassita Massiah, Mr.
Porter’s mother, who resides in Garfield, NJ, and other members of Mr. Porter’s
family. The court determined
that while the Navy is primarily at fault for Mr. Porter’s death, sovereign
immunity protects the U.S. from having to pay Mr. Porter’s family. Vulcan,
however, was directed to compensate the family for the role it played in
causing his death.
night he died, Mr. Porter, also of Garfield, was a student participating in a
navigation training exercise aboard a RHIB, which is used by the Navy to
support SEAL (sea, air and land) special forces operations worldwide. At the
time of the accident, the RHIB was slowed or stopped on the James River (along
the western shore of Jamestown Island near Norfolk) so that the crew could
determine the type of vessel that was approaching. The bow of the flotilla
being pushed by the tugboat “William E. Polle” then emerged from the
darkness and collided with the RHIB carrying Mr. Porter and other Navy
personnel. While his fellow seamen escaped to safety, Mr. Porter was sucked
under the barges and then into the propellers of the tugboat.
should have known that a flotilla traveling on the James River, under the
circumstances that prevailed on October 11, 2007, would need a lookout on the
bow of the forward barge,” said Judge Morgan in his written opinion and
order. He added: “The United States negligently operated an unseaworthy
vessel by manning [it] with an incompetent crew.”
Ruling Establishes New Safety Standard for Tug Operators
“This ruling establishes a clear
standard of safety for tug operators to post lookouts in order to avoid
collisions with other boaters,” said Mr. Rose. “In the face of the
Court’s finding of overwhelming fault on the part of the Navy, and no
finding of fault by the Coast Guard or National Transportation Safety Board,
this case further demonstrates that tug operators can still be found legally
responsible for failing to do their part to prevent such collisions. Tug
operators must post lookouts, even when operators of other vessels may be off
course or improperly positioned on the waterways.”
pleased that the judge assigned fault to those who were responsible for my son
Freddie’s death,” said Ms. Massiah. “And I am hopeful that changes
will be made soon in the tugboat industry that will better protect small boats
on rivers so that no other parent has to needlessly suffer what we are going
Kreindler & Kreindler, based in New York, is the leading law firm representing plaintiffs in the United States and around the world in transportation accident cases and other complex litigation matters involving aviation, maritime vessels, products liability, auto, train and other transportation accidents. The firm has represented hundreds of personnel injured and killed on tugs, freighters and other cargo ships, as well as people who have suffered injuries or death in recreational boating accidents and as passengers on cruise ships.