LAWYERS


It seems that in every profession people resent the intrusion of lawyers. I feel sorry for them. They only exist because of the demand for them in our "litigious society". In the United States, seamen are treated differently by the law. They do not come under state workman's compensation laws. They are protected by Federal law. If they are injured, and they can't receive what they consider fair compensation from their employer, their case is heard in Federal Court. In one U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the seaman was judged to be "child-like and improvident, and prone to acts of invincible ignorance." What it means is that there are a number of lawyers who specialize in maritime claims, and that employers have to be especially careful to minimize claims. It also means that it is not unusual for lawyers and investigators to come to a ship to gather information about a claim of injury that probably happened several trips earlier, and request the people who may have been involved make statements about the incident which has been forgotten. Therefore their arrival aboard ship is greeted with skepticism. Anyone boarding a ship with a suit and tie will be greeted as if they were a lawyer, regardless of their profession.


One year in the port of Port Townsend, Washington, such a visit occurred. Port Townsend is a small lumber port on Puget Sound. We were loading about 7 million board feet of lumber for Naha, Okinawa. We had several days in a port that had little to offer a seaman who did not have a car. I therefore called to a rental car agency and arranged to have a car delivered to the ship that afternoon. I had told our practical joking chief engineer about my plans, so that we could possibly go ashore together. Our boatswain was a large West Indian black man, a fine seaman. When the time for the car's delivery approached, he happened to be near the gangway, and spotted a man arriving in a business suit. He greeted the rental agent, who asked to see the chief mate. The boatswain said, "You ain't a lawyer, are you?" The rental agent said no. The boatswain said jokingly, "That's good, 'cause the capt, he whoops lawyers' ass!". The rental agent looked a bit surprised, but allowed the boatswain to escort him to my room, where he was greeted by the chief engineer at my door. The chief figured out who he was, and without addressing him, entered my office and said in a loud voice to me, "Hi, John, How are you? Do you still get drunk and wreck cars the way you used to?" By that time the rental agent really looked upset.

It took me a bit of convincing to get the rental car after that reception, but eventually my mild manner overcame the agent's reluctance, and we had a rental car for our stay in Port Townsend.