Alaska Personal Injury Law Group Obtains Important Ninth Circuit Ruling — Unmanned Barges Must Have Safety Railings

While cargo barges may be “unmanned” while under tow, longshoremen and seamen often go aboard “unmanned” barges for loading, unloading and other purposes. Federal regulation 46 C.R.F. § 92.25-5 requires that cargo barges have a three-course perimeter safety railing. The Coast Guard, however, has failed to enforce that regulation, stating without explanation in its Marine Safety Manual that such barges are totally exempt from the railing requirement. In a lawsuit I am handling, a longshoreman working on a cargo barge equipped with only a two-course safety railing fell between the two courses (exactly where the third course should have been) and was crushed and badly injured when the barge surged back against the dock. In an important recent decision, the Ninth Circuit agreed with us that the Coast Guard’s manual is inconsistent with the regulation; that the express terms of the regulation controls; and that the barge was in violation of the regulation. Abruska v. Northland Vessel Leasing Co., 2007 WL 4328834. This is an important ruling, not only for my client, but for everyone who has to work aboard cargo barges, often in dark, rough or inclement conditions.