Rules of the Road in Inland Waterway Vessel Collisions
A recent maritime case result of ours involved a collision between two vessels. In In Re BOPCO, L.P., Civil Action No. 11-3137, In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Section "C" (5), our client, Ryk Frickey, suffered injuries after being struck by a BOPCO commercial vessel. Defendant tried to limit its liability to $45,000 (the value of the vessel involved) pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act; the Court dismissed BOPCO's Limitation Petition and allowed Frickey to recover the full amount of the jury's verdict.
Ryk Frickey is a crab fisherman working in southern Louisiana. He was T-boned by a BOPCO employee in the inland waters of Point a la Hache, Louisiana. BOPCO, a subsidiary of a large Fort Worth energy company, has oil and gas wells in inland marshes and hires operators to travel from well to well for monitoring. The BOPCO employee was traveling on a boat toward the company's dock and collided with Frickey's vessel at the intersection of two canals. Our client required back surgery after the crash.
An interesting aspect of this case involved the application of Coast Guard Inland Navigation Rules, called the "Rules of the Road," which legally govern this type of waterway transportation. Our maritime lawyers know the Rules of the Road which often govern vessel accident, personal injury, wrongful death, and collision and allision cases. We know the unique admiralty and maritime law procedures that apply in these cases. Admiralty and maritime law usually applies in vessel and boat accidents, even to those involving recreational vessels.
In our case, the rules showed our client had the right of way. But BOPCO disagreed and offered $0 to settle the case before trial. Instead, it argued that Frickey was to blame for driving too fast, not maintaining a proper lookout, and driving on the wrong side of the canal. It also argued that Frickey was not seriously injured in the incident, did not need surgery, and had a normal MRI. BOPCO further attacked Frickey by pointing out that he barely reported any income to the IRS on his tax returns. Finally, BOPCO attempted to take advantage of a maritime law called the Limitation of Liability Act to cap its damages at $45,000 (the value of its boat).
We were able to show these arguments were wrong and prove BOPCO was at fault and Frickey sustained serious injuries. The pretrial offer was zero. The jury awarded $1.1M in total damages.