A jury found the Port of Bellingham negligent for failing to fix a control panel on a loading ramp that collapsed on an Alaska ferries employee in 2012.
A federal jury has ordered the Port of Bellingham to pay $16 million in damages to an Alaska ferries employee who was injured while operating a faulty passenger-loading ramp at the port’s cruise terminal in 2012.
The verdict was returned Friday after a nine-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman. Jim Jacobsen, one of the attorneys representing the employee, Shannon Adamson, and her husband, Nicholas, of Juneau, said the eight-member jury deliberated about five hours before deciding the case.
The jury found the port negligent for failing to fix a control panel that operated the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, even though evidence at the trial showed the port knew the panel was faulty and officials there knew of a previous, similar accident in 2008.
In 2012, Adamson suffered life-threatening injuries when, while working as a mate aboard the Alaska ferry Columbia, the passenger gangway ramp at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal fell nearly 20 feet while she was adjusting it from a control panel. Jacobsen said she suffered multiple fractures, two punctured lungs, a lacerated liver and a head injury. She was flown by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center, where she was hospitalized for 10 days, he said.
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Adamson sued the port in 2014, alleging widespread negligence, including allegations that the port knew the ramp had a faulty control panel based on a report written by a Seattle engineering firm, which pointed out problems with the control panel and suggested it be fixed.
The so-called “Geiger Report” was commissioned and written after a 2008 incident where the loading ramp had dropped about 12 inches.
“We point out that the result of this incident could have been much worse,” the report said.
However, Adamson’s lawyers said the Geiger Report was, for the most part, ignored. A copy was provided to the state of Alaska’s Risk Management Division, however the port never provided it to the Alaska Marine Highway System, which operates the ferries and leases it operation at the port.
Moreover, according to pleadings in her lawsuit, the “Port inexplicably disregarded the recommendations in the Geiger Report.
“This is not a case where the port made a judgment call and made a mistake,” wrote Adamson’s attorneys in court documents. “This is a case where a defendant purposefully chose to subject its own employees … to a serious risk of injury of death. This conduct can only be characterized as reckless, callous and a willful and wanton disregard.”
In addition to failing to fix the control panel, evidence at the trial showed that the port posted instructions on the ramp’s operation after the 2008 accident but never trained anyone on their use and never developed a system to determine who was qualified to operate the ramp.
The port, in its pleadings, conceded that it could have addressed the faulty control panel before 2012 and that the repairs were not made until after Adamson was injured.
The port’s lawyers argued that Adamson is at least partly responsible for her injuries.
“The evidence also shows that Ms. Adamson’s own conduct was negligent,” they wrote. Her “actions before operating the passenger ramp demonstrate that she knew she was insufficiently trained.”
The Port fully cooperated in the defense provided by its insurance carriers and these carriers have indicated that given the proceedings at trial they plan to appeal. The Port will continue to cooperate with its insurance carriers since the claims are fully covered by those carriers.
Rob Fix, the Port of Bellingham’s executive director, said the insurance carriers funding the defense plan to appeal the verdict.
“The Port will continue to cooperate with its insurance carriers since the claims are fully covered by those carriers,” Fix said Monday.
Pechman, in an order in January sending the case to trial, ticked down a long list of the port’s defenses and, one by one, dismissed them all.
The jury awarded Adamson a total of $16,007,102, including $294,407 in lost past income and an estimated $4.2 million in lost future income. The jury awarded her $9 million to compensate for past and future pain and suffering and $227,088 for medical bills. Her husband, Nicholas Adamson, was awarded $2.2 million for loss of past and future consortium.