Seaman forced to work in 'wet and stinky' conditions, suit says

By David Yates | Jan 8, 2008

Mark Lanier

Plaintiff's attorney Mark Lanier's ship came in when the SS Westward Venture docked in Beaumont last year. Lanier landed at least two clients who suffered injuries aboard the ship and filed two separate Jones Act suits last week.

In Lanier's most current suit, filed on Jan. 3, the attorney claims his client, Curtis Thornton, injured his arms while "chipping away at…rust, grime and other debris which had accumulated over the years in the ship's bilges."

"Plaintiff was directed to chip out and remove this rust, grime and debris (in part because it had become wet and stinky) using one of the ship's pneumatically- driven 'chipping hammers' that was inadequate to remove the rust…," the suit said.

On Dec. 31, Lanier filed suit on behalf of seaman Tom Arriola against Interocean American Shipping Corp. and Totem Ocean Trailer (case No. E180-970).

In that suit, the plaintiff says he developed ulcers and diabetes after he was fired – conditions he claims were the result of the stress of his wrongful termination for standing up for his union rights. "Plaintiff was fired without notice, without warning, without explanation, and in a public manner."

In both suits, Lanier accuses defendants Interocean and Totem of negligence, claiming the companies failed to provide a safe place to work.

According to Thornton's original petition, he boarded the SS Westward Venture in Beaumont on Sept. 23, 2006. On Nov. 13, 2006, while the vessel was en route to Durban, South Africa, Thornton began chipping away at the ship's rust and injured his arms.

The suit continues by asserting that Thornton's working conditions were bellow par.

"(Thornton) was directed to crawl under the engine's main condenser, while the ship's boilers were running at approximately 900 degrees, so there was excessive heat being generated in the area in which he was directed to work," the suit said.

"It was 'hot as [H]ades' in the area… The ship's senior officers authorized plaintiff and similar crewmembers to take breaks, but only every 30 minutes, so they would not pass out and collapse from the excessive heat. The working conditions also were very poor because the rust, grime and debris that plaintiff was directed to chip out and remove was wet and stinky."

Thornton developed extensive pain in his neck and shoulders, as a result of his "wet and stinky" work, the suit said, adding that he also had "two ruptured discs in his neck."

"Defendants were negligent in directing Plaintiff to do the above work without providing him with proper training, proper tools, proper equipment," the suit said. "Plaintiffs injuries were legally caused, in whole or in part, by the unseaworthiness of the Defendants' vessel."

Thornton is suing for lost wages, medical expenses, mental anguish and attorneys' fees.

Judge Bob Wortham, 58th Judicial District, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. A180-975

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