Jury Awards $950,000 To Family of Engineer

The Waterways Journal
Vol.116 No.28

American Commercial Barge Line Company (ACBL) is seeking a new trial after a jury returned major verdict against the company in a lawsuit involving towboat manning.

Following a two week trial, a St. Louis jury returned a $950,000 verdict in favor of Mary Duncan, whose husband, Gary, died May 31, 1999, from a heart attack while working as a chief engineer for ACBL, Jeffersonvillle, Ind., on one of its Mississippi River towing vessels. The verdict was announced July 26. Duncan was represented Nelson G. Wolff of the St. Louis law firm Schlichter Bogard & Denton.

The jury found the company negligent for requiring Duncan to work without adequate assistance in maintaining the engine room of the 9,000 hp. Towboat.

During the trial, it was stated by the plaintiff that Duncan was regularly required to work 12 hours per day and more for 40 days in a row in temperatures exceeding 125 degrees and generally without any assistance. He was on call 24 hours a day and was regularly awakened by engine alarms, making it impossible for him to get regular and adequate sleep. According to the plaintiff, the engineer's job was the only one on the boat that was not scheduled in separate watches to allow "regular" alternating work hours of six hours on and six hours off.

The plaintiff also contended ACBL had cut the engine room crews from four to one full-time employee after it acquired the vessel and its crew in a corporate acquisition of the Valley Line Company. Subsequent requests by Duncan and other engineers for assistance were reportedly denied by the company.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital cardiologist Dr. Phillip Ludbrook testified during the trial that these working conditions were unsafe and caused extreme psychological distress, which contributed to Duncan's coronary artery disease and triggered his heart attack. Duncan was 48 years old at the time of his death.

ACBL denied that the working conditions were stressful or that such stress could cause heart disease or sudden cardiac death.