Case against Triple Tail Charters owner over man's fractured ankle dismissed

By Elizabeth Alt | May 15, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — A lawsuit against a fishing boat captain alleging negligence after a man suffered an ankle fracture after disembarking a boat has been dismissed for lack of evidence.

Judge Martin Feldman wrote the order for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on May 2. 

“Plaintiff identifies no competent evidence that creates a factual controversy on this point," Feldman wrote.

In July 2016, a group of friends booked an overnight fishing excursion with fishing boat captain Blake Rigby, owner of Triple Tail Charters, according to background information in the ruling. Rigby did not own the boat he was using at the time. Nelson Zane Westmoreland was one of the people onboard, and it was noted in the court documents that Westmoreland was drinking alcohol and was told to stop at one point during the trip. 

When the group disembarked early next morning, Westmoreland severely fractured his ankle when he jumped off the edge of the boat and slipped on the dock that he noted was covered in algae and fish slime, according to information in the ruling. Westmoreland sued Rigby, Venice Marina and Triple Tail Charters in 2017, alleging Rigby failed to “provide a safe means of egress and the marina’s unsafe condition caused his severe ankle surgery.” Westmoreland sought relief under maritime and Louisiana law.

Rigby filed suit for summary judgement, claiming that climbing down from the bow of the boat to the dock is the normal exit, that Westmoreland was not denied the customary exit, and that he did breach any duty because he did not own the boat.

In a footnote, Feldman observed “the plaintiff offers no evidence to support a finding that this method of egress under the circumstances of a four-foot drop was unreasonably dangerous. Nor does the plaintiff challenge the admissibility of the expert report relied upon by Captain Rigby.”

Feldman wrote that “There is no evidence that any formal charter party existed that clearly shifted the responsibility for negligence,” and that the only dispute that could be argued is whether “the overnight fishing trip was a chartered voyage, or simply a fishing excursion with friends of the boat owner.”

Stating that Westmoreland referenced cases on the “mistaken assumption that Captain Rigby owned the boat at the time of the fishing excursion,” Feldman wrote that “Westmoreland offers no countervailing evidence to raise even a genuine dispute as to this material fact… This alone suggests that the plaintiff cannot prove an essential element of his claim against Captain Rigby.”

“The plaintiff fails to offer any case literature to support a finding that Captain Rigby owed a duty to Westmoreland or the other recreational fishermen to ensure that they safely disembarked the boat," Feldman wrote.

Rigby was granted summary judgment, and Westmoreland’s claims against him were dismissed. 

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