Guam customs colonel sues shipping company, seeks $250K in damages

TRANSPORT: The APL Saipan, shown in this file photo, arrives in Saipan. Photo courtesy of APL

A Guam Customs and Quarantine colonel is seeking $250,000 in damages from APL Maritime Ltd., alleging she suffered nerve injury and extensive bodily pain while boarding an APL vessel in May 2017.

Col. Darlene Merfalen alleges she sustained multiple bodily injuries during the course of customs inspection duties when she attempted to board the APL Saipan when it arrived to Guam from Yokahama, Japan.

The lawsuit states Merfalen and other Customs officers noticed that the ship’s gangway was placed in midair and not properly secured onto the concrete landing. When the gangway was eventually lowered, Merfalen attempted to climb onto the gangway by placing her right hand on the gangway’s right-side railing when it collapsed in her direction, striking the side of her hardhat.

As the railing continued to fall toward her, Merfalen’s knees buckled and the railing had to be lifted off her and pushed away, court documents state.

APL crew members secured the gangway with rope, and Customs officers were able to board and conduct the inspection.

Merfalen went to Guam Memorial Hospital the morning after the accident and continued to endure pain for many months after the incident.

“Her provider assessment was consistent with peripheral nerve injury, including severe pain in left shoulder, muscle spasms and other chronic pain,” stated Merfalen’s attorney, R. Todd Thompson.

She underwent physical therapy for six weeks and sought chiropractic care.

The lawsuit alleges APL was negligent and reckless to operate a gangway it knew was defective. Merfalen claims APL crew members were aware of previous incidents in which the gangway railing pins may have come loose, causing the railing to be unstable. It is alleged that the company was made aware of the problem but failed to take reasonable steps to address it.

The case was originally filed in Superior Court of Guam but was moved to the District Court by APL Maritime.

APL’s attorney Michael Gatewood filed a notice of removal last week, stating there exists diversity of citizenship and federal question jurisdiction under the Admiralty Extension Act that requires the case to be heard in the District Court of Guam.