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Originally published Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:49 PM

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Jury awards $3.45M for family of ship worker who drowned on job

A federal-court jury has awarded $3.45 million to the estate and survivors of a 33-year-old woman who drowned in 2010 while working on a ship conversion in a Ballard shipyard.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A federal-court jury has awarded $3.45 million to the estate and survivors of a 33-year-old woman who drowned in 2010 while working on a ship in a Ballard shipyard.

The eight-member jury found that the ship’s owner, G Shipping Ltd., a Malta company controlled by Italian race-car driver and hotelier Emanuele Garosci, was negligent in the death of Lia Hawkins, who was working on a crew converting a former oceanographic-research vessel into a luxury floating hotel, the M/V Sahara.

According to the lawsuit, Hawkins is alleged to have fallen overboard through an unsecured gap in the ship’s deck railing where she had been throwing heavy metal refuse into a recycling container four decks below. Her attorney, J.D. Stahl, said G Shipping had done almost nothing to ensure a safe workspace on the ship. The jury returned a verdict on Friday after seven days of testimony, including that of Garosci, who flew in from Venice to appear at the trial. Kevin Beauchamp Smith, the lawyer for G Shipping, said Wednesday that his client believes the jury’s award is excessive and plans to appeal.

Hawkins was part of a small crew that had been working on the vessel, which Stahl said had been purchased by Garosci and G Shipping for about $6.5 million. He said that the plan was to spend $10 million and turn it into a world-class floating hotel that would travel from port to port.

The sour economy, however, interfered with those plans, and Hawkins and a small crew remained working on the conversion while the major renovation was put on hold. Stahl said Hawkins worked half-time as an office assistant and the remainder helping tear out small cabins that had been used by scientists on the ship to clear space for the eventual construction of restaurants and rooms.

On Oct. 21, 2010, Hawkins disappeared while working. According to news accounts, Hawkins’ friend Alaina Perez said the missing woman left behind her car, her keys and her purse. She said relatives and friends feared that she may have fallen in the water.

Her body was found the following day in the water, close to the recycling container. She was wearing overalls and a leather glove, indicating she had been working inside the ship.

An autopsy determined she drowned. The project manager testified that he had never been instructed by the owners to oversee worker safety and, if asked, would have declined, since he said he had no expertise in the area. Stahl said the setup on the deck made it easy for someone to lose their balance while hauling heavy scrap to the side to throw it overboard into the recycling container.

The jury found that G Shipping’s negligence in not providing a safe workplace was a cause of Hawkins’ death and awarded $450,000 to her estate; $500,000 to compensate for her “pre-death pain and suffering”; $2 million for loss of society to her mother, Julie MacLay; and $500,000 for loss of society to her father, John Hawkins.

Mike Carter: mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

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