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Verdict for Chief Mate with Heart Condition Due to Excessive Hours Worked

Chief Mate William Skye brought suit in Florida against Maersk Lines Limited for excessive dangerous working conditions that inflicted heart damage and subsequently forced him into early retirement. The claim was made that Maersk working conditions violated the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, also known as the STCW.

According to the case, Plaintiff William Skye, 57, was employed on a Maersk vessel named the Sealand Pride as Chief Mate of the ship, where Skye was assigned and required numerous duties that violated STCW working conditions throughout his four years of employment with the company. The STCW calls for time restrictions on licensed seamen in the deck or engine departments of no more than eight hours of work per day. According to the lawsuit, Skye alleged that his daily job duties consisted of standing two four-hour watches, then performing twenty-eight additional job duties associated with his position of Chief Mate. In the lawsuit, Skye stated his typical work day consisted of 15.75 hours of work per day, which is a violation of 46 USC 8104(d) and also of 46 CFR 15.1111.

According to the case, strenuous work conditions have left the plaintiff lacking consistent uninterrupted sleep, and Skye was diagnosed with Left Ventricular Hypertrophy in June 2008 by Dr. Joseph Wachspress. This heart condition results in a physical thickening of the left ventricular portion of the heart, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood and also increasing the odds of a heart attack. According to the lawsuit, Skye also suffered an adjustment disorder which led both his cardiologist and psychiatrist to insist upon the Plaintiff’s early retirement, at age 54.

Two former Maersk employees testified during the case on behalf of the plaintiff. One was a former relief Chief Mate and he states that the intense duties affiliated with the position made it impossible to complete tasks without performing a significant amount of overtime. The other witness was a former fleet manager for Maersk and he stated that while Maersk was responsible for abiding by STCW laws, Maersk did not do anything to check that crews were able to complete necessary tasks and duties in compliance with STCW work/rest hours. During the case, the ship’s captain also testified that the plaintiff was a competent Chief Mate who had complained to him that complying with STCW work/rest hours was difficult. In the case, evidence was presented which showed that 185 percent of the Chief Mate’s salary was derived from overtime hours, versus the Captain’s overtime budget of 26 percent.

The jury awarded $2,088,549.00 to compensate for the ten years of wages Skye will not earn due to his early retirement. They also found non-economic damages totaling $273,750.00. While the jury did not find statutory violations of the STCW, they did find Maersk 25% negligent and Skye 75% comparatively negligent. This comparative negligence finding will be the subject of a post-trial appeal.

Seamen who are subjected to excessive hours without rest and suffer illness or injury as a result should consult maritime personal injury counsel to determine whether they have a claim based upon vessel negligence or unseaworthiness. Anderson Carey Alexander is a maritime personal injury lawfirm with decades of experience successfully representing injured seamen. They may be contacted for a free initial consultation and case review by phone at 1-800-BOATLAW(2628-529) or visit our website: boatlaw.com.

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