Business

A crane accident blinded him, so he took his case to a jury

Former crane operator John Robert Williams Jr. of Mobile County, Ala., won a jury verdict of $3.4 million against Manitowoc Cranes of Wisconsin after a 2014 crane accident at VT Halter Marine Inc. left him blind and with a traumatic brain injury.
Former crane operator John Robert Williams Jr. of Mobile County, Ala., won a jury verdict of $3.4 million against Manitowoc Cranes of Wisconsin after a 2014 crane accident at VT Halter Marine Inc. left him blind and with a traumatic brain injury. Amanda McCoy

A federal jury awarded an Alabama man and his wife $8.5 million in damages over a crane accident that blinded him at VT Halter Marine Inc. in Pascagoula.

But John Robert Williams Jr. will receive only $3.4 million of the award because he was restricted to suing the crane company, Manitowoc Cranes LLC in Wisconsin. The award was reduced to 40 percent — the portion of liability the jury assigned Manitowoc, the jury verdict form shows.

The jury found Halter Marine bore 50 percent of the blame. Williams, the jury decided, had a 10 percent role in the accident.

Federal law prevented Williams from suing Halter because he received workman’s compensation through his employer for medical expenses and some lost wages.

The jury concluded after an eight-day trial in U.S. District Court that Manitowoc failed to provide warnings that counterweights on the type crane Williams was operating can come loose and strike the operator’s cab, said Ben Galloway of Gulfport’s Owen Galloway and Meyers, one of the attorneys who represented Williams.

As a defense, Galloway said, Manitowoc contended there were problems with Halter’s lift plan for the cranes.

In June 2014, Williams and another crane operator were using enormous Manitowoc cranes to move a ship’s bow in tandem. Williams stopped his crane under orders to do so, the lawsuit says, while the other crane kept moving. Williams’ crane then tipped forward.

Williams tried for up to three minutes to right the crane before one or more counterweights, weighing 18,000 pounds each, struck the cab.

Williams was thrown from the window onto the ground.

Manitowoc “should have warned the operator,” said another attorney for Williams, Desmond Tobias of Tobias McCormick Comer in Mobile. “He could have left. He could have gotten out. It was like a baseball hitting a bat. It spit him out of the operator cab and directly onto his head, causing the terrible injury that he had.

“The company contended they weren’t in any way responsible. We’re happy the jury found they are responsible to this extent.”

Williams, 62, suffered a traumatic brain injury and must have care around the clock. His wife, Wanda Williams, 61, was forced to give up her job as a housekeeper.

The verdict, Tobias said, “doesn’t change the suffering Mr. Williams will have to go through for the rest of his life.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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