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Port loses court appeal in $16 million award for injured Alaska ferry worker

Alaska ferry system may cut some of its runs to Bellingham

The southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System is in Bellingham, but Alaska officials may cut service here in the winter months.
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The southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System is in Bellingham, but Alaska officials may cut service here in the winter months.

The Port of Bellingham has lost a court appeal in a case that involves awarding $16 million to an Alaska ferries worker who was injured at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

On Thursday, April 11, the Washington State Supreme Court agreed with a previous ruling that a landowner is liable for injuries that happen because of defective equipment on leased property.

Three years ago a federal jury ordered the Port of Bellingham to pay damages to Shannon Adamson. She suffered life-threatening injuries in 2012 when she was an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Court documents indicate that Adamson fell about 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the cruise terminal collapsed. The ramp was used by the Alaska ferry but owned by the Port of Bellingham.

“The force of the fall caused Ms. Adamson to lose consciousness such that she does not remember the accident or the events leading up to it, and she sustained multiple other life-changing injuries,” according to the Washington Supreme Court documents.

Documents indicate the Port knew about a flaw in the ramp system and it could have been fixed by installing an interlock device that would have cost less than $1,000.

When Adamson sued for damages in federal court, a jury found the port was negligent and not Adamson nor the state of Alaska.

In the state Supreme Court ruling, the judges wrestled with the question on whether a landowner who leases property is absolved of liability when the tenant has priority use of the property. The eight justices studying the case ruled the landlord is indeed liable.

The Port of Bellingham did not immediately respond to an email sent late Thursday morning.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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