Truth. It seems like it should be a simple concept.
We find, however, that the truth is sometimes malleable especially when it is subject to outside influences, biases, prejudices and self-interest. We have found over and over in our cases that witnesses – to incidents, accidents, and particularly conditions and vessels, and the practices employed by vessel owners and captains – are reluctant to speak the truth because of a variety of reasons.
Often times, we find that witnesses, particularly rank and file crew members, will adopt the theory of defense that the vessel owners, insurance adjustors and their lawyers want them to. This is often because they feel that if they do not adopt and toe the party line, so to speak, that they won’t be hired on future trips and/or they will get a reputation that they are not loyal to vessel owners and will find themselves on the sidelines when fishing trips are crewed.
Time also can play a role on the truth. Over time people forget things. Over time people think things that did not happen actually did and the longer the time goes on the cloudier even an honest person’s view of the truth or belief in the truth becomes. This is why it is very, very important, if you are a fisherman, to your fellow fishermen who have been injured, that you at all times tell the truth about what you have seen, heard and observed aboard fishing vessels.
The insurance adjustor and the lawyer for the vessel owner are not your friends.
We have seen they will try and get you to say things that may not jive with the truth as you know it and that they will put pressure on you to adopt the story that they want to tell. It is up to you to decide whether or not you want to go along with this. However, you should know that there are Whistleblower laws that would protect you from being discriminated against if you tell the truth rather than what the insurance company defending a vessel owner from a Jones Act lawsuit wants you to say.
Another issue to keep in mind is that after an accident happens, our investigators will try to speak to you and obtain a statement form you close in time to when the accident has happened. It is important to the injured crewmember that we represent that you cooperate with our investigator. This does not mean that you tell the investigator what you think we want to hear. Quite to the contrary, we want you to tell our investigator the truth so that we can analyze the case properly and advise our client properly. We want you to tell the truth to our investigator at the earliest moment in time after the accident because that is the time that your memory will be the freshest and the most accurate. So if an accident happens and our investigators contact you, please speak to them and please tell them the truth.
Almost assuredly, the insurance investigators and/or their lawyers will also seek to talk to you. We strongly urge you again to tell the investigators and the defense attorneys the truth as well and then let the chips fall where they may. When an accident happens on the vessel due to the fault, negligence, and/or ignorance of the vessel owner or the captain you owe it to yourself and the ongoing safety of the fishing community to tell the truth especially when you know that the vessel owner or the captain has done something wrong and you would actually be shooting yourself and your fellow fishermen in the foot if you do not tell the truth when you have observed a vessel owner’s or captain’s negligence or an unseaworthy condition.
I leave you with one final thought on this topic.
There may come a day when you are injured. We certainly would not wish that on you or anyone else. However, if it does happen, I can assure you that you will want your fellow crew members to tell the truth about what they have seen and heard. If not then the truth which is eventually told to a jury will not be the actual truth of what happened and there can be devastating consequences as a result thereof.
FWY is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in handling many types of maritime litigation. If you have any questions in this regard, especially if you feel you, your friends or family members have been injured on a commercial fishing vessel don’t hesitate to email us here or call us at (617) 773-5500.