Cook blames pirate attack on employer, shipowner

John O'Brien Apr. 30, 2009, 8:30am

HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) - The cook on a ship that was recently taken over by Somali pirates has filed a lawsuit against the shipowner and his employer.

Four pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia on April 8. The crew, including plaintiff Richard Hicks, managed to escape, but captain Richard Phillips was held hostage and eventually saved by U.S. Navy SEALs who shot and killed three of the pirates upon learning Phillips' life was in immediate danger.

Hicks' complaint, filed by Houston personal injury attorney Terry Bryant, says Waterman Steampship Corp. and Maersk Line Ltd. should have known better.

"Defendants knowingly sent their employees... into pirate-infested waters rather than take safer routes," the complaint says.

"Despite knowingly exposing its employees to grave and imminent danger, the defendants took no adequate steps to provide appropriate levels of security and safety for its employees, instead relying on the U.S. Military (and taxpayers) to provide after-the-fact rescue operations at substantially more cost and risk to human life than what would have been incurred by Defendants had they provided appropriate levels of security in the first place."

Hicks said he sustained serious and permanent injuries while locked in the engine room and during a struggle with one of the pirates.

The lawsuit does not specify Hicks' alleged injuries, but adds that he is suffering from mental anguish and will, "in reasonable probability," continue to do so in the future. The suit seeks $75,000.

Bryant began his career as a personal injury attorney in 1985 when he opened his firm. His practice areas include auto accidents, drug injuries, Hurricane Ike damage, medical malpractice and nursing home abuse.

He also runs a blog featuring news reports of incidents that may become personal injury claims.

Last year, Bryant filed a lawsuit for a woman who lost her arm in a bus crash one day after the Jan. 2 accident. One person was killed and 20 more were hospitalized. The cause of the crash was still unknown when the suit was filed and, like the pirate suit, it was filed in Harris County.

Eventually, 44 of the 47 passengers filed personal injury claims and split a $10 million settlement with $4.4 million going to the family of the one fatality, Pedro Mendez.

In 2007, Bryant won a verdict of more than $29 million for a couple injured in an auto accident, the largest award in San Jacinto County's history. They sued the driver of the pickup truck that hit them and his employer, Universal Cable Holdings.

Do you think the ship owners and operators are responsible for Hicks' mental anguish? Vote in our on-line poll on the Southeast Texas Record home page.

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