The body of missing JanTran Employee Stephen Miller was found this morning on September 8th in the Mississippi River. Miller had been working as a deckhand aboard the tug M/V Mr. Tom when he disappeared from the vessel more than 6 days ago.
As maritime lawyers, we immediately had numerous questions including what type of life vest was he wearing, was it proper and Coast Guard approved, did JanTran immediately report his disappearance to the proper authorities or did they delay rescue efforts while they tried to find him, has the vessel been inspected for signs that would indicate where he fell overboard from the vessel, was the rear of the vessel properly constructed and maintained to prevent hands from falling overboard, did the hands routinely use the restroom overboard as a matter of company policy (as was the situation in a prior case we handled on behalf of the family of a drown seaman).
Stephen Miller’s disappearance and death may seem simple and clear on its face, but cases such as these are always more involved and complicated than they first appear. All of the above questions need to be answered, as well as many others to determine if his death could have been avoided. Under maritime law and the Jones Act his family is entitled to compensation and future income including his wage loss. While such matters seem harsh to consider at this early time, much of the above evidence can only be obtained if fast action is taken. The autopsy should determine if his death was due to drowning or some other cause. While a thorough autopsy would determine such, it is critical to make sure such a determination is made, otherwise such evidence could be lost forever. Finally, punitive damages may be available if JanTran was grossly negligent in contributing to his death. Such damages could prevent negligent conduct in the future and make such tugs safer workplaces for other seamen.
Our sincere thoughts go out to Mr. Miller’s family as they face the tough time ahead.