Skanska Ordered to Pay $1.7M to Florida Oyster Farm for Barges Loosed in Storm

November 20, 2023

Skanska USA, part of one of the world’s largest construction firms, was ordered to pay almost $1.7 million to a Florida oyster farmer, three years after the firm’s barges broke loose in Hurricane Sally.

The state-court jury verdict last week could be a preview of the outcome of a class-action lawsuit from some 900 homeowners and businesses in the Pensacola Bay area, along with suits from property insurers seeking subrogation, after Skanska was accused of failing to secure two dozen barges before the storm hit in September 2020.

Travis Gill, owner of DeLuna Oyster Co., argued in his lawsuit that two of the barges destroyed hundreds of thousands of his oysters growing in the bay. The largely self-insured Skanska, which was building a multi-lane bridge across Pensacola Bay, could have moved its barges to a designated safe harbor before the hurricane made landfall, under a plan the company submitted to the Floria Department of Transportation, according court documents and local news reports.

One of the loose barges knocked out part of the Three Mile Bridge that Skanska was building, closing the bridge and diverting traffic for months, causing multiple businesses in the area to lose customers.

Skanska contended in trial that wind and waves had damaged Gill’s oyster beds and equipment. But plaintiffs’ experts testified that they had never seen storms cause the type of damage seen at Gill’s operation, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

The jury in the Escambia County Circuit Court trial awarded Gill $445,000 for property damage and $1.2 million in lost profits.

“Travis is very grateful that today, for the first time, Skanska is held accountable for the destruction it caused thanks to a jury of Escambia County Citizens,” Jeff Gill, Travis’ father, one of the attorneys who represented him in the case, said in a statement released by the Levin Papantonio law firm.

Skanska, a Swedish company known for building roads, bridges and other major projects around the world, now faces the federal class action and other suits. A federal appeals court ruled in August that the construction firm’s liability was not limited by an 1851 maritime law, as Skanska attorneys had argued.

Skanska officials have declined to comment, the local newspaper reported.

Photo: The Pensacola Bay bridge after it was hit by a barge in 2020. (Tony Giberson/Pensacola News Journal via AP)