Eddie Westbrook v. US United Barge Line, LLC

[B]Case Name: [/B][I]Eddie Westbrook v. U.S. United Barge Line, LLC.
[/I][B]Date Decided: [/B]November 13, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. W.D. Kentucky
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Russell
[B]Citation:[/B] 2009 WL 3834101 (W.D. Ky.)[B]Background:
[/B]Before this Court was defendant, U.S. United Barge Line’s ("United Barge) motion for summary judgment in response to plaintiff, Eddie Westbrook’s (“Westbrook”) action pursuant to the Jones Act and unseaworthiness for injuries suffered while employed by United Barge.

According to Westbrook, he was injured while climbing a set of stairs from the lounge of the vessel to the vessel’s second deck in order to obtain a mop to use as part of his cleaning duties shortly after beginning his watch for United Barge.

While climbing up the stairs, Wesbrook fell backwards down the stairs and landed on his right hip and bumped his head. Westbrook alleged that at the time of his fall the stairs did not have any handrails and that had they been present, he would not have fallen to the bottom of the stairs and been injured.

Following the fall, Westbrook completed an Inury/Illness Incident Report Form where he described the incident as “going up steps from lounge to second deck about half way up triped and fell backwards down steps… going up steps a little to fast”.

Westbrook was taken to the hospital and signed a statement to the affect that he was rushing up the stairs and “mis-stepped”.

Westbrook filed this action asserting a negligence claim under the Jones Act and unseaworthiness under the General Maritime Law. Westbrook alleges the stairs did not have handrails and also brought a claim for maintenance and cure.

[/B]Did this Court grant United Barge’s motion for summary judgment?

[/B]Westbrook claims that the absence of handrails at the time of his fall would be a breach of United Barge’s duty to provide a safe place for Westbrook to work and therefore, constituted negligence under the Jones Act. Additionally, Westbrook contended that the absence of handrails rendered the vessel unseaworthy.

Westbrook contended that he has submitted sufficient evidence to make the presence/absence of handrails a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. Westbrook alleged, in his deposition and affidavit and handrails were not present. He also submitted the history he gave to nurse Simmons on the day of his injury where he stated handrails were not present.

United Barge argued that overwhelming evidence confirmed the stairwell had handrails on each side. First, United points to vessel construction specifications which set forth that stainless steel handrails would be provided on both sides of the interior stairwells.

Ultimately, however, the District Court held that the evidence presented by Westbrook and United Barge presented genuine issues of material fact best left for the finder of fact to decide (jury/judge). Accordingly, this Court denied United Barge’s motion for summary judgment.

The sufficiency of the evidence to defeat summary judgment is simply whether a reasonable finder of fact could conclude favorably for the party introducing it. Westbrook’s statement to the nurse, that the stairwell did not have a handrail, could lead a juror/judge to reasonably find that the stairwell lacked handrails. [/B]

[B]Moreover, United Barge introduced evidence that a reasonable juror/judge could be lead to believe that the vessel in fact did have the handrails at the time of the incident. [/B]

[B]If conflicting evidence is presented, and both could lead to different reasonable finding of facts, then* the standard of summary judgment has not been met. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]