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Thursday, April 17, 2014

9th Circuit sides with man who was run over by boat

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has issued a ruling favorable to a fisherman who was injured after being run over by a motorboat in 2007 while he was fishing.

The Ninth Circuit judges reversed the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s decision that found fisherman Pedro Pangelinan Pinaula negligent and was injured for only six months.

The Ninth Circuit judges ruled that the district court made an error of law in finding that Pinaula was negligent.

The appellate judges said that courts sitting in admiralty “look to the common law in considering maritime torts.”

The common law, the judges said, requires a fact-finder to consider “the customs of the community, or of others under like circumstances,” as a factor when determining whether conduct is negligent.

In this case, the Ninth Circuit judges said the district court failed to consider evidence showing that the use of M-boats is customary among fishermen in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“The court therefore erred in its application of the relevant law. We therefore reverse the finding that Pinaula was negligent,” the judges said.

On the injury issue, the appellate judges cited the record showing that Pinaula first sought medical attention three months after the accident and continued to seek medical attention intermittently from November 2007 until February 2010.

The judges said the district court’s finding that he was injured for only six months was implausible and without support from the record, making it “clearly erroneous.”

The lawsuit arose from an incident on Aug. 25, 2007, when a boat being driven by Banga Bandhu Baidya ran over Pinaula, who was swimming and fishing with a sling in the shallow waters off Micro Beach mid-afternoon.

At a bench trial, U.S. District Court for the NMI visiting judge William Fremming Nielsen found negligence on the part of Pinaula, Baidya, and Baidya’s employer, Seahorse Inc. Saipan. The judge, however, determined that Baidya’s negligence caused Pinaula’s injury. The judge found Baidya and Seahorse liable to pay Pinaula damages worth $3,600.

Pinaula disputed the judge’s finding, asserting that his injury lasted 29 months or no less than 14 months if adjusted for mitigation.

The judge denied the motion and stood pat in his previous rulings.

Pinaula, through counsel Joseph E. Horey, then appealed.

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