Ferguson v. Arctic Transportation Ltd.

In Personal Injury and Maritime Law on (Updated )

This was an action for damages for personal injury. The Plaintiff was a Panama Canal Pilot. At the time of the accident he was one of three Pilots on board the barge "AMT Transporter", ex the "Arctic Tarsiut", when she was transiting the Panama Canal. He was injured when an emergency tow line secured to the sides of the barge apparently became snagged, whipped up and hit him. The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants were negligent and the barge was unseaworthy in that the emergency tow line had been improperly secured. The trial judge, however, dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim. She found that the barge had been prepared for transit through the canal by a reputable contractor, that the Panama Canal Commission had approved the method of securing the tow line and that the Panama Canal Commission inspectors had inspected the work after it was done. The trial judge further noted that at the time of the accident the barge was under the exclusive control of Panama Canal Commission employees. Accordingly, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff had failed to prove negligence or unseaworthiness.

A second issue in the case concerned the applicable limitation period. The Defendant argued that the matter was governed by Panamanian law which provided for a one year limitation period. The Plaintiff argued that the matter was governed by section 275 of the Canada Shipping Act which provides that in the absence of a limitation period in the act itself the case should be governed by the law of the Port of registry (i.e.. Canada). The trial judge held that section 275 applied only to seamen working on Canadian ships and that it had no application to an accident involving a foreign pilot in foreign waters. Consequently, she found that the action was time barred.