Articles by Pierce Azuma

Advanced Technology from U.S. Military will soon find its way into Commercial Diving Operations

The United State Navy has developed the Divers Augmented Vision Display, which is a high-resolution, heads-up display installed directly into a diver’s helmet.  The system will allow the diver to access sonar, text messages, diagrams, and photographs. Significantly, the display will allow for augmented reality videos; technology that allows images and video to be superimposed in real time (think the “monocle” mode in your Yelp app).


This technology will assist divers in recovery and salvage operations by offering real-time positional awareness.  The Naval Sea Systems Command is also working on development of enhanced video systems that will increase diver sight in near zero visibility situations.  Like so many other advancements before, it is only a matter of time before these technologies make their way into commercial diving operations.

Fifth Circuit Weighs in on P&I Insurance Coverage Dispute

Following a verdict in favor a Jones Act seaman, Larry Naquin, for injuries he sustained in a land-based crane accident, an insurance coverage dispute arose between Naquin’s employer, Elevating Boats, LLC (“EBI”), and its insurance companies, State National Insurance Company (“SNIC”) and Certain London Insurers (“London Insurers”).  EBI alleged that SNIC and London Insurers breached their insurance contracts by denying EBI’s claims related to Naquin’s accident and failing to provide defense and indemnity.  EBI also sought damages for bad faith on the part of SNIC and London Insurers.  SNIC moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no coverage for Naquin’s land-based accident under its Protection & Indemnity Policy (the “Policy”) and that EBI failed to provide sufficient notice as required by the Policy.  The District Court granted summary judgment and entered final judgment in favor of SNIC.


On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reviewed the “Indemnity” provision of the policy that called for indemnification of EBI “as owner of the Vessel” for liability arising out of “any casualty or occurrence[.]”  SNIC argued that the “as owner of the Vessel” clause did not provide coverage for EBI’s negligence in Naquin’s land-based accident.  EBI’s assertion to the District Court was that the “any casualty or occurrence” clause provided coverage for the accident.  The Fifth Circuit, interpreting Louisiana law, found that the only way to give meaning to the “Indemnity” provision of the Policy was to construe it as limiting coverage to “any casualty or occurrence” which arises out of EBI’s conduct “as owner of the Vessel.”  Since Naquin’s injuries resulted from a land-based crane accident, the Court held that there was no causal operational relation between the vessel and injury so as to extend coverage of the Policy in this instance.  The District Court’s summary judgment was affirmed.


Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., et al.

Cruise Passenger Awarded $21 Million in Sliding Door Mishap

A U.S. District Court jury in Seattle awarded $21.5 million in damages to an Illinois man who suffered a brain injury after being struck in the head by a glass sliding door on the M/S AMSTERDAM.  The plaintiff was traveling with his wife and daughter on the first leg of their around-the-world cruise.  Plaintiff initially reported a facial contusion and chipped tooth.  He was later diagnosed with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome.  Plaintiff asserted that since the injury he began suffering from vertigo and seizures.  Plaintiff argued that there have been dozens of other injuries related to sliding doors in the Holland America fleet due to faulty sensor settings that allowed the doors to open and close faster than normal.  United States District Judge Barbara Rothstein allowed the jury to review evidence of 16 other incidents causing injury, including broken hips and back injuries, to passengers and crew members.  Plaintiff’s experts testified that the sensors were adjusted to open at the last moment and close after half a second of inactivity, which was against the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Plaintiff averred that this was done in order to save on air-conditioning.  Accordingly, the jury awarded plaintiff $5 million in compensatory damages and $16.5 million in punitive damages.

Hausman v. Holland America Line-USA, et al

Gangway Permanently Attached to Pier is Not Maritime Locality

In Adamson v. Port of Bellingham, No. 14-1804, 2015 WL 4716421 (W.D. Wash. August 6, 2015), a U.S. District Court in Washington was asked to determine whether the plaintiff’s common law negligence claim qualified as a maritime tort outside of admiralty jurisdiction, thus invoking Washington state law as opposed to maritime substantive law.  Plaintiff was an officer aboard the car ferry M/V COLUMBIA, owned by the State of Alaska.  Plaintiff was on a gangway leading from the port to the ship when it fell, injuring her.  The gangway was part of a steel structure permanently affixed to a pier extending from the land over the water.  In determining whether Plaintiff’s claim qualified as a maritime tort, the Court cited the two-part test identified by the Ninth Circuit in Taghadomi v. United States, 401 F.3d 1080, 1084 (9th Cir. 2005): 1) the tort must occur on or over navigable water to provide “situs” or “locality,” and 2) there must be a significant “nexus” between the actions giving rise to the claim and traditional maritime activity.


Turning to the “locality” component, the Court noted that the locality test excludes injuries occurring on permanent, fixed structures such as piers, jetties, bridges, and ramps.  The Court acknowledged cases where gangplanks or other methods of ingress and egress from a vessel met the locality test but noted that in those instances the claims were made against the vessel or vessel owner where there was a duty to provide a safe means of embarking and disembarking the ship.  In this case, Plaintiff did not bring suit against the State of Alaska, as owner of the M/V COLUMBIA.  Instead, the State of Alaska was made a third-party defendant and the claims against it were later dismissed on sovereign immunity-related grounds.  Since the Plaintiff did not bring a claim against the vessel, which may have owed a duty of care to its crew with respect to means of embarking and disembarking, and the fact that the gangway was permanently affixed to the pier, the Court found that the Plaintiff failed to meet the locality requirement of the test for maritime tort.


Adamson v. Port of Bellingham