Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gonzales v. River Ventures LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 14, 2017

ANGELO GONZALES
v.
RIVER VENTURES, LLC

         SECTION: “G” (1)

          JUDGMENT AND REASONS

          NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter came before the Court for trial without a jury from October 24, 2016, to October 25, 2016.[1] The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333(1), which confers on the federal district courts original jurisdiction over admiralty and maritime claims, and pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (“LHWCA”).[2] Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), as Defendant River Ventures, LLC (“River Ventures”) resides in the Eastern District of Louisiana.[3]The substantive law applicable to this case is the LHWCA, 33 U.S.C. § 901, et seq., and the general maritime law.[4]

         The Court has carefully considered the testimony of all of the witnesses and the exhibits entered into evidence during the trial, as well as the record. After reviewing all of the evidence and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 52(a), the Court issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law. To the extent that any finding of fact may be construed as a conclusion of law, the Court hereby adopts it as such, and to the extent that any conclusion of law constitutes a finding of fact, the Court hereby adopts it as such.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In this litigation, Gonzales, an employee of Intervenor United Bulk Terminals Davant, LLC (“UBT”), seeks damages for injuries sustained on June 17, 2014, while being transported on a vessel by Defendant River Ventures.[5] As a result of this accident, Gonzales asserted a claim against Intervenor American Longshore Mutual Association, Ltd. (“ALMA”) and UBT (collectively, “Intervenors”) pursuant to the LHWCA.[6] Intervenors contend that ALMA, on behalf of UBT, made payments to Gonzales in connection to these injuries pursuant to the LHWCA.[7]

         On June 16, 2015, Gonzales filed a complaint in this matter against River Ventures.[8]ALMA and UBT intervened on December 1, 2015, and March 10, 2016, respectively.[9] No dispositive motions were filed. On October 13, 2016, ALMA filed a motion in limine to preclude Jerry Hannah, president of River Ventures, from testifying about matters it believed constituted parol evidence regarding the contract between River Ventures and UBT.[10] The Court took the motion under advisement prior to trial.[11] River Ventures chose not to call Jerry Hannah as a witness during the trial, which rendered the motion moot.[12] On October 19, 2016, River Ventures filed a motion to exclude the “surprise” expert testimony of Dr. Charles Haddad.[13] River Ventures also filed a motion to continue the trial based on Dr. Haddad's allegedly new testimony on October 20, 2016.[14] The Court denied both motions.[15] A trial without a jury was held from October 24, 2016, to October 25, 2016.[16]

         On November 7, 2016, the Court ordered the parties to submit supplemental post-trial briefing, if necessary.[17] On November 20, 2016, ALMA filed a post-trial memorandum.[18] On November 21, 2016, Gonzales filed a post-trial memorandum.[19] On December 8, 2016, River Ventures filed a post-trial memorandum, [20] and on December 9, 2016, ALMA and UBT filed a reply.[21] On December 12, 2016, Gonzales filed a reply.[22]

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. The Parties

         1. Plaintiff Angelo Gonzales is a resident of the Parish of St. Bernard, Louisiana.[23]

         2. Defendant River Ventures, LLC is a Louisiana limited liability company with its principal place of business in St. Amant, Louisiana.[24]

         3. Intervenor United Bulk Terminals Davant, LLC is a Louisiana limited liability company with its principal place of business in Davant, Louisiana.[25]

         4. Intervenor American Longshore Mutual Association, Limited is a mutual association, organized and existing under the laws of Bermuda.[26]

         B. The Relationships Between the Parties

         5. Gonzales has been employed by UBT as an electrician since 2012.[27]

         6. Gonzales has worked as an electrician for 40 years, including 14 years as a marine electrician and supervisor at Avondale Shipyards prior to being employed by UBT in 2012.[28]

         7. UBT transfers coal to and from river barges and oceangoing vessels and maintains stockpiles of coal at several land-based storage areas.[29]

         8. UBT owns and operates several docks in Davant, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River on which vessels may be moored and equipment may be stored.[30]

         9. While working for UBT, Gonzales was responsible for performing general electrical maintenance on all UBT equipment, including the equipment located on UBT's docks.[31]

         10. River Ventures, a crew boat/transport vessel company, contracted with UBT to provide transportation for UBT employees on the Mississippi River.[32]

         11. The General Agreement contract between River Ventures and UBT was in effect and controlling at the time of the incident that is the subject of this litigation.[33]

         12. ALMA insured UBT for claims arising under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.[34]

         C. River Ventures' Vessel: The M/V TROOPER

         13. River Ventures owned and operated the vessel “the M/V TROOPER.”[35]

         14. River Ventures used the M/V TROOPER to transport UBT employees between work sites.[36]

         15. The M/V TROOPER includes a large open deck on the stern of the ship with handrails on both the port and starboard corners of the stern of the deck.[37]

         16. The captain's wheelhouse, which is a covered structure with several windows installed where the captain operates the vessek, is located at the bow of the ship.[38]

         17. The captain sits inside the wheelhouse cabin on the port side of the vessel.[39]

         18. The M/V TROOPER is also equipped with an off-loading platform constructed on the top of the captain's wheelhouse.[40]

         19. The off-loading platform on the M/V TROOPER is used to offload personnel onto docks that are raised above the regular deck of the vessel.[41]

         20. The platform was equipped with a metal grated floor and handrails on both sides, with openings in the handrails on both the port and starboard sides of the platform to allow passengers to disembark from the platform either way and an opening for the ladder entrance.[42]

         21. To reach the top of the platform to disembark, a passenger must first climb a ladder on the starboard side of the vessel onto an intermediate stage on the back half of the wheelhouse, walk across the intermediate stage of the wheelhouse to the port side of the vessel, and then climb a second ladder to the top of the platform.[43]

         D. The Events of June 17, 2014: Gonzales boards the vessel

         22. On June 17, 2014, Gonzales was working for UBT as a Class A electrician.[44]

         23. On June 17, 2014, Noble Ruffin (“Captain Ruffin”) was an employee of River Ventures and the captain of the M/V TROOPER.[45]

         24. Captain Ruffin had been a captain at River Ventures for approximately six months prior to the incident on June 17, 2014.[46]

         25. On June 17, 2014, Gonzales requested that Captain Ruffin transport him and some equipment to the “F boom” dock operated by UBS.[47]

         26. Gonzales instructed Captain Ruffin on where he should be dropped off.[48]

         27. Captain Ruffin piloted the M/V TROOPER to the barge where Gonzales was waiting to depart.[49]

         28. Captain Ruffin backed the stern of the M/V TROOPER up to the barge and tied up the M/V TROOPER to the barge.[50]

         29. The M/V TROOPER was level with the barge where Gonzales was awaiting transport, such that he could walk directly from the barge onto the deck.[51]

         30. Gonzales and Steve Rivera (“Rivera”), another UBT employee, loaded equipment and material from the barge onto the M/V TROOPER.[52]

         31. Gonzales proceeded to walk onto the stern of the M/V TROOPER to be transported.[53]

         32. Rivera did not board the M/V TROOPER and instead walked to meet Gonzales at his destination at UBT's “F boom” dock.[54]

         33. Todd Ferniz (“Ferniz”), another UBT employee, boarded the M/V TROOPER with Gonzales.[55]

         E. The Events of June 17, 2014: Gonzales attempts to disembark from the vessel

         34. Captain Ruffin piloted the M/V TROOPER from the barge to the “F boom” dock with Gonzales and Ferniz on board.[56]

         35. Captain Ruffin backed the stern end of the M/V TROOPER to the “F boom” dock.[57]

         36. Rivera was already on the “F boom” dock to assist Gonzales and Ferniz with unloading equipment from the M/V TROOPER.[58]

         37. Gonzales and Ferniz proceeded to hand the equipment on the back deck of the M/V TROOPER to Rivera on the “F boom” dock.[59]

         38. After the equipment was off-loaded, Gonzales needed to use the offloading platform above the vessel's wheelhouse to disembark from the M/V TROOPER to the “F boom” dock, as the back deck of the M/V TROOPER was several feet below the dock.[60]

         39. Gonzales and Ferniz remained on the M/V TROOPER while Captain Ruffin began maneuvering the M/V TROOPER.[61]

         40. While the M/V TROOPER was positioned with its stern against the dock, Captain Ruffin attempted to pivot the vessel starboard such that the starboard side of the offloading platform and vessel would be flush with the dock.[62]

         41. This maneuver is referred to as “walking” the vessel in order to re-position the vessel to let passengers off from the top of the offloading platform.[63]

         42. On June 17, 2014, at the time of the instant incident, the Mississippi River was “rough” and “running high, ” such that the water level was higher than normal and the river was moving faster.[64]

         43. Captain Ruffin attempted to “walk” the M/V TROOPER over several times in the rough waters so that the starboard side of the vessel would be flush with the dock.[65]

         44. While Captain Ruffin was performing this maneuver and the vessel was still moving, Gonzales proceeded to climb up the two ladders on the M/V TROOPER to the top of the offloading platform.[66]

         45. Passengers are not supposed to climb up onto the offloading platform until the captain signals for them to do so.[67]

         46. Gonzales did not inform Captain Ruffin that he was climbing up to the offloading platform.[68]

         47. Captain Ruffin, who was inside the vessel's wheelhouse, was not aware that Gonzales had climbed up onto the offloading platform above the wheelhouse.[69]

         48. Ferniz remained on the deck of the M/V TROOPER and held on to the handrails because he “didn't want to get thrown into the river.”[70]

         49. While Captain Ruffin was attempting to turn the M/V TROOPER to be flush with the dock, the M/V TROOPER bumped hard against the dock several times.[71]

         50. Captain Ruffin did not warn his passengers to watch for the bump.[72]

         51. Bumping against the dock while “walking” a vessel over is common when performing this maneuver.[73]

         52. While “walking” the vessel, Captain Ruffin did not accelerate the M/V TROOPER or otherwise increase its speed beyond what was necessary to turn the vessel's starboard side to be parallel with the dock.[74]

         53. While Captain Ruffin was attempting to dock the M/V TROOPER, Gonzales remained on top of the offloading platform and tried to communicate to Ferniz that Captain Ruffin should proceed to an alternative location to offload Gonzales.[75]

         54. Because the vessel had two diesel engines operating and creating noise, Captain Ruffin did not hear Gonzales climb on top of the offloading platform or hear Gonzales' suggestions to Ferniz that Captain Ruffin proceed to a new drop off location.[76]

         55. Gonzales had the “stop-work authority” to immediately end the work being done because an employee feels like he is in an unsafe situation, but Gonzales failed to utilize it when he was on the offloading platform while the vessel was moving.[77]

         56. It was Gonzales' obligation as a UBS employee to use his “stop-work authority” to immediately end a situation that Gonzales felt was unsafe.[78]

         57. While on top of the offloading platform, Gonzales was holding a bag in one hand.[79]

         58. While Captain Ruffin continued to try to “walk” the M/V TROOPER to be flush against the “F boom” dock, Ferniz saw that Gonzales was preparing to jump down from the offloading platform to the dock before Captain Ruffin had completed the maneuver or had signaled to Gonzales that it was safe to climb onto the platform or disembark.[80]

         59. Ferniz yelled to Gonzales to not jump.[81]

         60. Because the offloading platform is approximately ten to twelve feet in length, Gonzales had room to safely step several feet back away from the starboard side opening on the platform's walkway.[82]

         61. On the fourth attempt to walk the vessel to the “F boom” dock, when the M/V TROOPER bumped against the dock, Gonzales jumped down to the dock.[83]

         62. Passengers are prohibited from jumping from the vessel to the dock or putting themselves or others at risk by their actions.[84]

         63. Gonzales landed on his shoulder when he impacted with the dock.[85]

         64. Captain Ruffin did not know that Gonzales was injured and proceeded to transport Ferniz to his location.[86]

         65. Gonzales did not fill out an accident report following his injury.[87]

         66. Following the incident, Ferniz wrote a statement in which he stated: “It was about 1:45 p.m. The crew boat was approaching dock. The electrician pursued to jump. I told him not to, to wait until it is stable. On about the fourth time, the fourth bounce, he jumped onto a pile of rope. He landed on his shoulder. (1) Rope on dock; (2) He fell on rope; (3) Rope might have saved him.”[88]

         67. Accordingly, as discussed in greater detail infra, the Court finds that Gonzales was injured because he climbed up onto the offloading platform without informing Captain Ruffin and before the vessel stopped moving and because he attempted to jump down to the dock before the vessel had stopped moving and before the captain had signaled that he could safely disembark.

         F. The Events of June 17, 2014: Gonzales' Injuries and Medical Treatment

         68. After landing on the dock, the first responders were called.[89]

         69. Gonzales' shoulder injury caused him significant pain, and he was unable to move his left arm immediately after the injury.[90]

         70. Gonzales walked away from the dock to the vehicle of Johnny Lacrosse, a production supervisor, who brought Gonzales to a first aid room.[91]

         71. Gonzales was taken by Perry Triche, the President of UBT, to Dr. Swift, the “company doctor, ” who examined ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.