Injury at Sea and Signed Release Key Components of Lawsuit

The appellate court differed with the trial court on the validity of a compromise when Louisiana company D.R.D. Towing was sued by a crew member on D.R.D.’s ship.

Mr. Randy Rudolph was a crew member of the M/V RUBY E, which was struck by another ship while he was on board. The collision threw him from his bunk, causing injuries to his back. Additionally, Mr. Rudolph lost his personal computer, cell phone, car keys and other items when the ship sank. He filed suit against D.R.D. Towing, the operator of the M/V RUBY E.

The issue for the court was whether Mr. Rudolph’s signing a release settling all claims for $3,000 a few days after the incident precluded him from collecting further money for his injuries. He argued that he understood the $3,000 was offered to compensate him for what he lost on the boat, but not to cover his future claims, including medical expenses and loss of earning potential associated with his injuries.

Before executing the release, Mr. Rudolph had told an attorney representing D.R.D. that his neck and back had been hurting and he had an appointment with a doctor later that day. The trial court found no requirement that Mr. Rudolph see a doctor prior to executing the release. All that was required was that he be aware that medical advice was available. However, the appellate court emphasized that Mr. Rudolph’s status as a seaman required careful scrutiny of the release. Here, the appellate court found that the release was not valid.

First, the court reasoned that $3,000 could not be sufficient to cover the property that Mr. Rudolph lost on the boat in addition to any medical expenses caused by injuries from the collision. Another problem was that Mr. Rudolph was not represented by counsel during the settlement negotiations, and the legal rights Mr. Rudolph was giving up were not explained to him. Given these circumstances, the court found that the release was not executed by Mr. Rudolph with a full understanding of his rights, as is required by federal law. The court also highlighted that Mr. Rudolph was having medical issues after the accident and had not yet seen a doctor or received medical advice, which supports his claim that he did not believe he was giving up all medical claims for injuries he may have sustained.

This case shows how reasonable minds can differ when it comes to proving that a contract or compromise is valid. Assembling the best legal team possible is especially important in such cases.

For assistance with a personal injury claim or contract dispute, contact the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005.

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