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Feds deny allegations of merchant seaman

Feds deny allegations of merchant seaman
Bryan Manabat 08 Jan 2019

THE U.S. government has denied the claims of a merchant seaman who filed a lawsuit for injuries he sustained while working on a maritime prepositioning vessel, USNS Montford Point, which is operated by Ocean Shipholdings Inc. but owned by the U.S. Navy.

Kenneth Lockhart, who is represented by attorney William M. Fitzgerald, sued the U.S. government for negligence under the Jones Act, for unseaworthiness, and for maintenance and cure.

Lockhart is asking for an award of damages and demands a jury trial.

In addition, he is asking for an award for medical expenses, past and future, for loss of earnings, past and future, for maintenance and cure, in an amount according to proof, for the cost of the lawsuit, and other relief the court may deem just and proper.

In its response to the lawsuit, the U.S. government stated that the District Court for the NMI has no subject matter jurisdiction and the lawsuit fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

According to the U.S. government, if Lockhart sustained injuries, “said injuries and damages were caused in whole or in part by plaintiff’s own negligence, fault and actions and not by the defendant or its officers, agents, servants, employees, vessels, or others.”

Lockhart’s complaint and action “solely allege matters which are subject to the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers for which the United States has not waived sovereign immunity and consented to be sued,” the U.S. government stated, adding that the lawsuit is time-barred.

The U.S. government said the federal court should dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice and with costs.

Representing the USNS Montford Point in the lawsuit are Sean Frink of Marianas Legal Strategy Group LLC, and U.S. Department of Justice torts branch, civil division attorneys Joseph H. Hunt, Michael Underhill, and Vickey L. Quinn.

According to his lawsuit, Lockhart was working below deck with and under the direct supervision of the second engineer.

“The task at hand was to move a palletized tool storage cabinet from one position below deck to another where it would be stowed for sea.”

Lockhart said instead of using a pallet jack or fork lift, the second engineer directed him and another crew member to help him slide the loaded pallet across the deck.

While doing so, Lockhart said “the pallet came in contact with an obstruction on deck causing the loaded pallet to tilt toward Lockhart, temporarily pinning him against a railing, causing injuries to himself.”

After a period of disability during which he received medical care ashore, Lockhart said he returned to the vessel as a member of the crew.

On or about Aug. 26, 2017 Lockhart said he was assigned duties aboard the vessel which required him to perform heavy lifting. He said this aggravated the injuries he sustained on Oct. 17, 2016, resulting in a second period of disability and medical treatment ashore.

According to his lawsuit, as a result of the negligence of the defendants, “it has been and continues to be necessary for Lockhart to receive medical care and treatment.”