The merchant vessel Brown Gulf was a small push barge operated by Brown Tide Inc. On the evening of November 23, 2002, a line became fouled in the engine of the Brown Gulf. The tow boat captain, an employee of Brown Tide Inc., was told by his supervisor to pilot the vessel to the Tesoro Marine Services dock facility in Pelican Bay, Galveston, Texas.
The Tesoro dispatcher directed the captain to moor the barge to a slip designed for ocean-going vessels, rather than smaller inland vessels such as the Brown Gulf. A diver successfully unfouled the lines under the ship. However, because the barge was smaller than the ships normally using the assigned slip, the deck of the barge was significantly lower than the dock, requiring a perilous climb to disembark the vessel. When the captain climbed to the Tesoro dock, he slipped and fell backward onto the deck of the Brown Gulf about six feet below.
The injuries: the barge captain sustained a broken neck that required neck fusion surgery. He also claimed a closed-head injury, brain damage, and memory loss.
The captain retained Brian A. Beckcom to represent him in legal action under the Jones Act against Brown Tide Inc., his employer, and also Tesoro Marine Services Inc., of Galveston, the owner of the dock. The lawsuit was filed in Galveston County District Court.
The legal case: the plaintiff claimed that the Brown Tide was unseaworthy because it did not have a safe means of access from the deck to the dock. Additionally, it was alleged that the dock was defective and unsafe.
The defendants claimed that the captain was entirely responsible for his fall. They contended that he should have contacted the Tesoro dispatcher for a ladder and that in his role as captain he was responsible for seeing that the Brown Gulf was equipped properly.
Both sides agreed to a settlement before the case could be concluded in court.