U.S. District Court to hear case on death of Michael Collins

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, May 27, 2017

Negligence on the part of Riverside Construction Co. was the cause Michael Collins’ death, according to a lawsuit filed by his father, Stan Collins.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court April 6 in Monroe, La., seeks unspecified damages in Michael Collins’ death. A bench trial, where the judge alone hears the case, is requested.

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No trial date has been set, and attorneys for Riverside have filed a motion to move the case to U.S. District Court in Jackson.

Joseph Gaar, Stan Collins’ attorney, said the decision to file the suit in Louisiana was for procedural reasons.

“The judge in Monroe is very well-versed in the admiralty law,” he said.

He said the reason he requested a bench trial is because maritime law is very complicated and sometimes can be difficult for a jury to understand.

“It was a pretty tragic event involving this young man,” Gaar said.

Collins, 22, a driver for Riverside Construction Co., died Aug. 23, when the dump truck he was driving went into the Mississippi River.

According to witnesses, Collins was backing up to barges moored on the river at the Florida Marine property to get more limestone when the truck began moving back and went into the river.

The truck stopped about 45 to 50 feet under the barges in about 45 feet of water.

Although witnesses said he was in the truck as it entered the water, commercial divers diving on the truck did not find him in the truck and a search under the barges was unsuccessful. His body was recovered Sept. 1 in river drift debris near the Baxter Wilson power plant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later cited Riverside Construction Co. for two violations that contributed to the accident resulting in his death.

According to the OSHA report, the truck’s braking system or other mechanisms used for breaking were not operable or in a safe condition.

“The vehicle braking system were (sic) missing parts such as: part of a brake booster or caliper; diaphragm cylinder and brake hydraulic sensors,” according to the citation.

The report also said the portable ramps used afloat were not well maintained and designed, constructed or maintained to prevent vehicles from going off the edge.

“Riverside’s failure to repair and maintain the brakes was a failure to exercise reasonable care and a failure to provide Collins with as reasonably safe place to work, and constituted negligence and negligence per se,” according to the suit. “Riverside’s negligence was a proximate contributing cause of Collins’ death.

“As a result of Collins’ wrongful death in territorial waters, the plaintiff is entitle to recover damages for the deceased’s personal injuries and damages and for wrongful death damages to the wrongful death beneficiaries and next-of-kin of the deceased.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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