Okada vs. Kelly-Ryan, Inc.
A financial settlement obtained by
Charles Jones under maritime law provisions created lifetime
security for a critically injured tugboat deckhand –
even though the injury occurred away from the vessel.
42-year-old James Okada worked aboard the tugboat Casey Marie,
engaged in shipping prefabricated homes from Seattle to remote
Alaskan outposts. His injury came as he was on a house-moving
crew navigating down a road in Napakiak, 400 miles northwest
of Anchorage. Okada stood atop the moving house and made sure
it cleared power and phone lines, which were supposed to be
disabled for the occasion. But when the house approached the
main Bethel-Napakiak line, packing 14,400 volts, Okada was
suddenly surrounded by an “orange glow,” according
to a witness, and tumbled to the ground unconscious. The line
With severe facial burns, his blue jeans and shoe melted
onto his left foot, Okada was airlifted to Seattle. Over a
long convalescent period his left leg was amputated, he underwent
multiple cataract surgeries, and coped with an array of other
injuries, including an organic brain injury, that left him
permanently disqualified for his deckhand job. Okada retained
Charles of Jones & Ward and filed suit against Kelly-Ryan,
Inc., the operator of the Casey Marie.
Kelly-Ryan argued that as the injury occurred away from the
Casey Marie, Okada was entitled only to Alaska worker’s
compensation. Jones asserted that in fact Okada was covered
by the Jones Act, a special maritime law covering injuries
to seamen that compensates for the generally more dangerous
nature of their work.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1995 that as long as a
seaman had a “substantial” connection to a vessel
and was contributing to its function or mission, the site
of an injury was irrelevant. So the legal task became demonstrating
that Okada met that litmus test.
Jones deposed the crew of the Casey Marie, establishing that
working alongside a shore crew was a key duty of theirs, formalized
by special “cargo pay.” He also exposed deficiencies
in company safety practice: an on-site supervisor testified
that he had read only “a quarter” of the company
safety manual, but found it boring and discarded it.
The defendant ultimately conceded that the Jones Act applied
and settled Okada’s claim in a judicial conference.
Charles obtained a settlement well into seven figures
– sufficient to support James Okada’s rehabilitation
and continuing campaign to repair and improve his life.
Jones Law. Attorney at law. Counselor for life.