Plaintiffs Seek Over $15 Million In Damages In Tugboat Deaths

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Plaintiffs are now seeking over $15 million in damages in Federal Court in a tugboat accident June 19 of last year on the Tennessee River near Soddy Daisy in which two fishermen were killed.

The Serodino firm, owner of the Bearcat tug, earlier filed an action in Federal Court asking the court to declare it was not negligent and that the value of the Bearcat did not exceed $1.1 million and its freight at the time not more than $11,615.

David Wilkey, who was the lone survivor on the aluminum fishing boat, is asking $75,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Janie Laymon, administrator of the estate of Richard Wilkey, is asking $2.5 million and unspecified punitive damages. He is represented by attorneys Jerry Summers and Jeff Rufolo.

At the time of the Serodino filing, the family of the other victim, 42-year-old Timothy Spidle, had not filed a claim.

Attorney Andy Berke, who also represents David Wilkey, later filed suit for Patricia A. Thurman of Calhoun County, Mich., administrator of the Spidle estate. It asks $2.5 million compensatory damages and $5 million punitive damages.

The suits ask for the punitive damages "to make an example of Serodino and deter others from similar conduct."

It was claimed there was no lookout and no horn or siren were sounded as the tug was pushing a 671-foot-long and 105-foot-wide barge that struck the fishing boat.

Serodino attorneys say the fishermen were negligent and had the boat in the channel of the river.

Richard Wilkey, the 52-year-old uncle of David Wilkey, is survived by two brothers and five sisters. Timothy Spidle, of Elizabethton, Tn., is survived by four children.

The suits claim Serodino failed to boost safety procedures despite "the pleas of former employee Kelly O'Connor and despite an accident a year before that killed another fisherman." In that incident, the Bearcat was pushing a barge that struck a fishing boat on Watts Bar Lake on June 26, 2009, that claimed the life of Jones Bower Bare, 53, of Trap Hill, N.C.

Mr. O'Connor, a former pilot for the Serodino firm, in a separate federal suit, said the company was negligent in its river operations, causing the two accidents in which three people were killed in a 12-month time.

Saying he was fired for speaking out about alleged unsafe practices by the firm, he is asking back and forward pay as well as punitive damages.

Charles Warren Luetke, 39, of Soddy Daisy, the operator of the Bearcat tugboat, was indicted for two counts of criminally negligent homicide in the collision that killed the two fishermen on June 19, 2010.

His case is pending in the courtroom of Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman.


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