Braddock company says it's not liable for death of kayaker allegedly sucked underneath barges on the Monongahela

By Nicholas Malfitano | Nov 15, 2018


PITTSBURGH – A materials handling company is seeking to exonerate itself from liability, in a case in which one of its vessels is accused of causing the death of a kayaker on the Monongahela River in 2015.

Gulf Materials, LLC of Braddock filed for exoneration or limitation of liability in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on Oct. 29.

Per the litigation, Gulf Materials is facing legal action from both the estate of decedent Ronald Vahosky and from having been joined as an additional defendant in a related civil action by U.S. Steel Corporation, with both complaints filed last spring.

The estate alleges that on April 23, 2015, Vahosky was kayaking on the Monongahela River when he passed in front of four barges that were moored four abreast in the river about 30 yards downstream of a boat launch at the end of 11th Street in Braddock, and while doing so, was sucked underneath the barges by the river’s current and drowned.

According to the estate, Gulf Materials owned and operated the vessels in question, specifically positioned the barges in that location and created a dangerous condition in doing so.

Meanwhile, Gulf Materials filed a response denying liability and stated the incident occurred without its knowledge and “were not caused or contributed to by any fault, neglect or want of care by Gulf.”

The M/V Ralph Sykes was the Gulf Materials-owned vessel towing the quartet of barges in question, had no pending freight at the time of the incident and had a value of $100,000 in the aftermath of the events detailed above.

Though it feels the claims are “not meritorious," Gulf Materials argues through limitation of liability provisions contained within federal law that any claims asserted against may not exceed the vessel’s value threshold of $100,000 – and files an Ad Interim Stipulation for Value to that effect, plus annual interest of six percent and a Letter of Undertaking.

The plaintiff is seeking a wide variety of relief, including the following:

• That Gulf Materials is exonerated from any and all liability related to the incident of April 23, 2015;

• That if any liability exists (which is denied), it is limited to the value of the M/V Ralph Sykes and its freight then pending immediately after the April 23, 2015 incident, that the amount of value secured be divided pro rata among all claimants as may duly prove their claims, saving to all parties any priorities to which they may legally be entitled and that a decree be entered discharging Gulf Materials, LLC from all other or further liability arising out of the April 23, 2015 incident;

• That an injunction be issued enjoining the commencement or further prosecution of any action against Gulf Materials, LLC with respect to or arising out of the April 23, 2015 incident

• That the Court cause a notice to be issued to all persons, firms and corporations having or alleging to have claims against Gulf Materials, LLC for any and all losses, damages or injuries occasioned or arising out of the aforementioned April 23, 2015 incident, citing them to file their respective claims with the Clerk of the Court or be forever barred, and to serve copies thereof on the undersigned attorneys for Gulf Materials, LLC and to also appear and answer the allegations of this complaint on or before a date to be named in the notice; and

• That Gulf Materials, LLC be awarded such other and further relief as may be just and proper and as the Court may deem appropriate.

The plaintiff is represented by Holly Whalen of Weinheimer Haber & Coco, in Pittsburgh.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 2:18-cv-01445

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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