In the Matter of the Complaint of Gore Marine Corp

[B]Date Decided[/B]: Feb 10[SUP]th[/SUP], 2011
[B]Decided By[/B]: Florida Middle District Court (Federal)
[B]Court[/B]: United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida
[B]Citation[/B]: 767 F.Supp.2d 1316
This case arose out of an allision between a 24’ fishingvessel (“the[I] MISS JIGGS[/I]”) and an1800’ section of dredge pipeline.
While on route to Collier County, Florida, three tugboatstowing a crane barge and 1800’ feet of dredge pipeline dropped anchor for anovernight stay off of the south end of Sanibel Island.
The crane barge and pipeline were secured together andanchored in an east to west direction. Two of the tugs, the [I]DIANA MARIE [/I]and the [I]CAPTAIN JEROME [/I]rafted up to the apparatus: the [I]DIANA MARIE [/I]to the crane barge at the west end, and the [I]CAPTAIN JEROME [/I]to the pipeline at theeast end. At the time of the allision, the third tug, the [I]MR. TOUP, [/I]was en route to join the other tugs from a stopover atEstero Island to the east of the anchorage.
The [I]MISS JIGGS[/I] wasreturning to Estero Island after a day of fishing off a nearby reef. Thevessel’s two passengers were Donna Skaggs (“Ms. Skaggs”), an experience boaterand licensed captain, and her friend John Gillen (“Mr. Gillen”).
At 7:15 PM, the [I]MISSJIGGS[/I] struck the middle portion of the dredge pipeline at a speed ofapproximately 24 MPH. Ms. Skaggs was thrown forward toward the vessel’s cabinand Mr. Gillen was thrown into the water. Mr. Gillen swam along the pipelinefor approximately 15 minutes before reaching the tug [I]DIANA MARIE[/I]. Ms. Skaggs, who was knocked unconscious by the impact,radioed the Coast Guard after regaining consciousness.
[I]MISS JIGGS’ [/I]operator,Ms. Skaggs, testified that she hit the pipeline because she failed to see anyof the warning lights affixed to it.
Ms. Skaggs brought claims under general maritime law againstthe owner of the [I]CAPTAIN JEROME[/I], GoreMarine Corp. (“Gore”) for injuries she sustained. Gore then filed a Complaintfor Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability under the Limitation ofLiability Act (“the Limitation Act”), [I]46U.S.C. § 30505.[/I]
Under the Limitation Act, a vessel owner is exonerated fromall liability stemming from an allision if the owner, vessel, and crew werefree from any contributory fault. Two presumptions govern what a party mustshow to prove fault under the Limitation of Liability Act: the [I]Oregon[/I] Rule and the [I]Pennsylvania [/I]Rule.
[U]The [I]Oregon [/I]Rule[/U]
The [I]Oregon[/I] Ruleprovides a rebuttable presumption of fault against a moving vessel that allideswith a stationary vessel. To rebut this presumption, the moving vessel mustshow either that the allision was the fault of the stationary vessel, that themoving vessel acted with reasonable care, or that the allision was anunavoidable accident.
[U]The [I]Pennsylvania [/I]Rule[/U]
The [I]Pennsylvania[/I] Ruleprovides that when any vessel is negligent or in violation of a statutory ruledesigned to prevent allisions, there is a presumption that the vessel was atleast a contributory cause of the accident. To rebut this presumption, thevessel must show that its fault [I]could not[/I]have been a cause of the accident.
Here, Ms. Skaggs is presumed to be at fault under the [I]Oregon[/I] Rule because the [I]MISS JIGGS [/I]was a moving vessel and the [I]CAPTAIN JEROME [/I]was a stationary vesselat the time of the allision. To rebut this presumption, Ms. Skaggs alleges 18negligent acts or statutory violations by Gore.
Gore denies all allegations, and contends that if it wasnegligent or in violation of a statute, its fault could not have been a causeof the accident under the [I]Pennsylvania [/I]Rule,and thus it should be entitled to exoneration from all liability under theLimitation Act.
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