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"Your client doesn’t have a case. You don’t know what you're doing!" So said the stuffed shirt in a suit sitting across from me from his green leather padded swiveling chair-throne. This man was the mouthpiece lawyer for most of the Seattle based factory fishing in the Bering Sea. His clients were making fortunes by putting 300 plus job desperate worker-bees into hellhole factories below decks then working them 16-18hours days, 7 days a week. He looked every bit the small town Irish Policeman he had been before going to law school and making it big in maritime defense work by bullying his way to the top. I called him "The Policeman."
Something was making The Policeman very nervous. The CEO of The Factory Trawlers Group was also in the room. A man made mostly of happy face painted card-board he struck me as incapable of movement for fear of falling flat on his face. I called him CardBoard man.
The Policeman and CardBoard man had phone called me: "Lets settle the Daniel Well's case." Daniel was a 22-year-old pre-med student paying her way through college. She took a processor job on F/V TITAN. Her dream was to become a Doctor and she had heard about "big money" in Alaska. Daniel's job was cleaning the surimi extruder. Cleaning meant laying face down inside a 20 foot long Steel V shaped machine with 30 continuously turning plate size sharpened blades. This machine is considered so dangerous two factory workers are required at a time, one to stand by the on/off button to make sure no one accidently turns the extruder on while the cleaner works inside, the other is the cleaner. It was midnight and shift change time. Figuring the factory was empty, the switch-guard left the area just before her replacement was to arrive. There was no lock out - tag out. The processor coming on duty believed the factory was empty. She pushed the green "on" button. The extruder began to strip Daniel of flesh down to bone just as if she were a fish. Blood was coming from everywhere. It soon became apparent the only way to get Daniel out of the extruder was to take the machine apart. This took five hours. The only thing keeping Daniel alive were blood and fluid infusions while she lay in this machine of death.
But none of this meant anything to The Policeman or CardBoard man. "She gets $ 177,000 Alaska workers comp. That's it." CardBoard man actually said something. Amazingly he talked/he smiled at the same time. This is what most people would call sneering. He would also be the check-writer when it came time to settle.
Whether Daniel qualified as a U.S. Seaman was what it was all about. They knew if we succeeded in convincing a Court processors were not legal low-life, but were in fact Seaman protected under Federal Law, Daniel's compensation would be more like $17,750,000 instead of just $177,000. If Daniel did it, there were 9,000 more just like her who had been and were being stiffed out of many millions. And The Policeman and CardBoard man were all about and only about legal intimidation. They did not want me to file a suit claiming Daniel was a U.S. Seaman. They knew won this case, thousands would follow in her footsteps. We were the very first in claiming factory workers were legal U.S. seaman.
So, what to say? There was no way I would stooge and agree to their low-ball offer. Words were not enough to show my anger and disgust. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. All of a sudden it hit me. There was one line to say at this very moment that would tell them to fu%k off, this meeting was over. That insult of insults that would let them know I didn't give a rats ass about them or what they had to say. And that I was outta here. There was only one thing to say at this very moment, which was...
"Do you validate parking?" Without saying it, The Policeman and CardBoard man knew exactly what this meant, “See Ya In Court Buddy”. For The Policeman, this potentially meant a windfall. If we obtained seaman status for Daniel, there were 9,000 more mistreated factory workers just like her. And everyone a potential new Defense case for The Policeman. For CardBoard man – it was disaster in the making. Suddenly those same 9,000 factory workers would have to be paid and treated like seaman – medical covering any and all medical expenses for any injury or illness arising from working on their factory boat – with no limit on the costs and the right to chose your own Dr. – unearned wages meaning wages to the end of your contract even if you were unable to complete the contract – and, most importantly, the right to sue the boat, directly, and the employer for pain, suffering, all general damages.
It took all of two seconds for this dynamic duo to know what could hit them. The Policeman laughed, "Out front, they will stamp your ticket." CardBoard man went flaccid. If flaccid was a color, then he was it. Seaman ship status for factory workers meant millions and millions of dollars, all gone to give the factory workers what they deserved. CardBoard man could soon be out of a job.
But none of this could happen without going to Court. We couldn't get there fast enough.
Daniel's case was filed in the United States District Court For The Western District of Washington. We immediately moved for summary judgment on one simple issue: do factory workers at sea contribute to the mission and function of a vessel in navigation and therefore qualify as Jones Act/General law seaman? The Answer? An emphatic YES! The Court's decision, issued on October 16, 1990 may be found at Wells v. Arctic Alaska Fisheries Corporation, The Artic Enterprise 1991 AMC 448 (1990) HONORABLE BARBARA J. ROTHSTEIN, U.S.D.C. No. C89-1490R.
Daniel, of course, was thrilled. It meant money enough to never have to work ever again, which was not her plan. She was a fighter through and through, and although not going to medical school, she became a physical therapist and a living example to her patients no matter how beat up your body, you can come back if you try. The Policeman? We saw him again and again and again. He had so many new cases to defend their law offices expanded to take over the entire floor of a major downtown high-rise. And CardBoard man. We rarely ever saw him again. The Trade Association in ruins, he later became an adjuster. I still wonder what it must have felt like for CardBoard man to write that check for $7,750,000 instead of $177,000. For us, it took a fledgling maritime law practice to the Heavens and beyond. Tom Evans Seattle Injury At Sea.
George Knowles, designated Best Lawyer by practice area, Admiralty and Maritime Law, Seattle Met Magazine, 2010
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