Families File Wrongful Death Lawsuit after Louisiana Barge Collision

wrongful death lawsuit, maritime law

Two families have filed a wrongful death lawsuit after each lost a loved one in a barge collision in January 2020.  Shawn Pucheu and Matthew Brigalia were onboard the RC Creppel barge when it collided with another barge in January 2020.  After the collision, the RC Creppel sank in the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.  Pucheu and Brigalia were among the three men whose bodies were not recovered from the scene.

Louisiana Barge Collision

On the morning of January 26, 2020, two barges collided in the Mississippi River.  The RC Creppel, a 69-foot towboat, and the Cooperative Spirit, a 186-foot towing vessel.  According to reports, the Cooperative Spirit was making an up bound transition when it entered a barge fleeting area.  It collided with at least one barge before hitting the RC Creppel.

Following the collision, the RC Creppel sank, and four crew members were missing.  One crew member was rescued later by a boater, but three others were never found.  The U.S. Coast Guard searched around 835 nautical miles, but were unable to recover the bodies to Pucheu, Brigalia and one other crew member.  After searching for 67 hours, officials suspended the search.

At the time of the collision, the RC Creppel was pushing two barges.  Those barges were full of sulfuric acid, which began to leak after the collision.  Reports say that an unknown amount of vapor was released into the air before the leak was secured.

The cause of the barge collision is still under investigation.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the U.S. Coast Guard are working together to determine exactly what happened.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed after Barge Collision Deaths

The families of Pucheu and Brigalia filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.  The lawsuit names Elite Towing and American River Transportation as defendants.  Elite Towing owned the RC Creppel, and American River Transportation owned the second vessel involved in the collision, the Cooperative Spirit.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for pain and suffering and economic losses.  Sadly, the families have not yet been able to locate their loved ones or lay them to rest.

Maritime Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The maritime industry has some unique and well known hazards.  But there are also incidents that happen due to the negligence or carelessness of someone involved.  In the barge collision discussed previously, it is unclear exactly what happened, but it is possible that human error is a factor in the collision.

When a maritime worker dies due to negligence, his or her family has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.  Maritime laws protect workers and allow their families options for recovery if they are killed while on the job.  Applicable maritime wrongful death laws include:

Death on the High Seas Act

The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) offers pecuniary damages to the family of certain maritime workers who die three or more miles away from shore.  DOHSA guidelines mandate that negligence or poor judgment of a vessel owner must have caused the death.  Some examples of incidents that may qualify for a DOHSA lawsuit include:

  • Defective equipment or machinery
  • A vessel that overturns or sinks
  • Fire or explosion on a vessel
  • Failure of the operator or crew to follow safety procedures
  • Failure of anyone to lend appropriate medical aid
  • Incompetence or lack of training of crew members

DOHSA offers legal remedy to the families of:

  • Workers or passengers who are killed while on a vessel three or more miles away from shore.
  • Workers or passengers on commercial airliners who are outside the 12-mile international water limit when killed.

Wrongful death claims under DOHSA may provide the family with compensation for:

  • Funeral or burial expenses
  • Loss of financial support (present and anticipated)
  • Counseling services
  • Financial costs due to the death

DOHSA benefits may be pursued only by qualified beneficiaries, such as the parents, spouse, children or dependent relatives.

The Jones Act

Maritime workers do not have the same workers’ compensation protections than land-based workers do.  Instead, they are offered protection under the Jones Act.  Maritime workers qualify for coverage under the Jones Act if they work on a vessel in navigable water for at least 30 percent of their work time.  In the case of wrongful death, a spouse and dependents have the right to collect damages if their loved one is killed due to negligence.

In order to qualify for damages under the Jones Act, an employer can be held liable for damages if he or she is found negligent in the incident or situation that caused the seaman’s death.  Damages available under the Jones Act may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral or burial costs
  • Loss of earnings
  • Pain and suffering

Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Maritime workers who are not seamen are provided benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).  The LHWCA applies to shipyard employees, harbor workers, longshoremen and other marine workers.  If a worker is killed, qualified family members may be eligible for death benefits.  These benefits include:

  • Widows – 50 percent
  • Children – 50 percent each
  • Widow with more than one child – 66 2/3 percent
  • More than one child – 66 2/3 percent

In order to qualify for death benefits, the deceased worker must have performed a large amount of work onboard a vessel.  Children qualify for death benefits if they are under 18 years old or are full time students under 23 years old.

Contact a Maritime Injury and Wrongful Death Lawyer

If you work in the maritime industry or are the family member of a maritime worker killed on the job, you may find it helpful to speak with a maritime lawyer.  Maritime laws are complex, and can certainly seem overwhelming in your family’s time of distress.  A maritime lawyer can help you protect your legal rights and ensure that you get any benefits that you qualify for under maritime law.

If you have questions about a maritime injury or wrongful death, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  Let our maritime lawyer review your situation and determine your best options for recovery.  To request a free injury consultation, call us at 1-866-871-8422, or email us via our online contact form.