Fisher Maritime


Marine Industry

Fisher Maritime's maritime accident and injury assignments focus on a thorough analysis of all factors potentially contributing to the occurrence of the accident, as well as the identification of the strengths and weaknesses of both our client's case and the opponent's case. Our clients include both defendants and plaintiffs (including in Jones Act matters), and whose roles have been component manufacturers, designers, insurers, owners, passengers, repairers, seamen, and shipbuilders.

The key to our successes, for which we have been commended by the courts (and praised by our clients through their repeat business) is our analytical reliance on facts rather than argumentative reliance on opinions. Some observations gathered from our experience are expressed below.


A major portion of Fisher Maritime's work is after-the-disaster analyses, including contract disasters and claims which result in extra costs and delays in shipyard projects, and physical disasters which result in property damage and/or personal injury.

Dr. Fisher explains that there is a theme common to every matter addressed by the firm. “That theme,” he said, “is to seek what did not occur as planned; why did it not occur as planned; what should have been done to increase the likelihood that it would go as planned; and identify which party had responsibility to address the possibility that it might not work as planned.”


Fisher Maritime's analyses of marine casualties and personal injury claims have generally led to an inescapable conclusion: cutting corners on safety-related matters can prove to be a very costly false economy. Among the most common corners that have been cut are:

  • inadequate or insufficient handrails
  • insufficient coverage with anti-skid surfaces
  • inconsistency between signage and design features
  • thinking that a nonsensical manual does not indicate a nonsensical design

The last item arises when the vessel operator thinks that perhaps the manual is written awkwardly, but does not make any effort to objectively see if some design features of the vessel are the things that don't make sense.


We have seen organizations lose and dispute tens of millions of dollars at a time due to failure to remember a fundamental precept in contract management: casually-developed and/or loosely-managed contracts have costly consequences. In a few year span, we have seen contract disputes of $2 million pertaining to a $7 million contract, $24 million pertaining to a $155 million contract, $22 million pertaining to a $71 million contract, $13 million pertaining to a $45 million contract, and $6 million pertaining to a $28 million contract, among others. These percentages of disputed amounts relative to initial contract value (28%, 15%, 31%, 29% and 21%) are not unusual. (What a sad commentary that is on the ability of both parties to develop and manage their contracts!)

Too often, according to the bitter disputes we have seen, contracts are developed as if the other party can read the mind of the party drafting the contract, or as if one party has the right to ignore the contract specifications. Contracts are under-managed, mismanaged or, simply, not effectively managed -- all of which inevitably lead to significant contract disputes. Moreover, the contracts are generally developed on the premise that everything will go right, such contracts failing to address what should happen if things don't go right. The falling-out between contracting parties when things don't go as smoothly as planned is simply incredible. We have seen organizations spend far more on litigation than on planning the construction of a ship. Certainly, this is not an appropriate use of resources.


Over the past several years Fisher Maritime has been asked to assist in personal injury litigation involving safety devices that could not be tested. In each instance, an injury appears to have resulted because the user of the equipment could not verify that the safety device was operable at the time the user relied on that device's integrity. Here are some examples:

  • A shipboard pedestal crane malfunctioned when the ship came to a northeast US port after departing South America in February. As a result of a short-circuit caused by condensation within the control cabinet, the operator could not stop the crane from slewing when it was activated in the US port. A personal injury and shipboard damage resulted because the limit switches were inoperable.

    The crux of the problem was that the limit switches could not be independently tested before crane operation. The crane manufacturer's operating manual dissuaded the crew from testing the limit switches by specifically stating that such testing may result in damage to the crane. Thus, at perhaps the only time in the crane's lifetime that the limit switches were vital to safety, they did not function.
  • A second example focuses on a pull-start outboard motor. A safety feature is that it cannot be started in gear -- only in neutral. The operator's manual cautions the user to not try to start the motor in gear -- in other words, do not verify that the safety feature is operable.

    A severe personal injury resulted when an operator inadvertently started the motor in gear -- which occurred because the safety device had previously failed. But according to the operator's manual and the design of the motor, there was no way a user could have determined that the safety feature had failed without having the outboard motor stripped down by a qualified technician.

Equipment manufacturers are obligated to furnish a wholly appropriate and adequate operating manual. Telling a user that safety devices cannot be tested is one example of a lack of common sense in an operator's manual. In some instances, minor re-design may be warranted to ensure that all the safety features of equipment can be confirmed functional by users.

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