$650,000 Settlement Obtained for Family of 18 year old ACBL Deckhand Crushed during Accident
Joseph Hulen was a deckhand for American Commercial Barge Lines (ACBL) on a tow boat when he was killed on November 2, 2002. He was survived by his parents. Joe had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps as an engineer. The incident occurred on the Ohio River, between Illinois and Kentucky. Joe was knocked into the river when a coiled line got tangled and knocked him into the Ohio River. He was crushed while in the river between the boat and a barge while being held by another employee due to a delayed rescue attempt.
ACBL told the family it was just an "accident" but investigation revealed that ACBL failed to have a safety policy requiring that its boat be secured to barges before attempting line transfers and found that the company failed to provide adequate communication between the deck crew and the boat operator. The operator did not have visual contact with the crew and the hand held radios were "useless" since the crew's work did not allow them a free hand to physically key the microphone. Before suit could be brought on behalf of the family, the company filed a claim under federal law to avoid any responsibility or, alternatively, to limit its liability to the value of its towboat. Schlichter Bogard & Denton partner, Nelson G. Wolff, successfully defeated that claim and also defeated the company's attempt to dismiss the claim by filing bankruptcy.
Under the Jones Act, the family's claim for compensation was limited to any loss of economic support which they reasonably expected to receive from their son and for the value of the brief period of Joe's conscious pain and suffering. The successful settlement for the family came after litigation in four courts.