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Maritime Law and the Mobile River Explosion Case

Dalton:
Welcome back.
Mobile Mornings Dalton Orwig sitting here with Desi Tobias from Tobias, McCormick and Comer. Thank you so much for coming in with us today.

Desi:
Dalton, thank you. I've enjoyed speaking with you already. I've been practicing law here for 34 years, and I have plenty of war stories. So you're a captive audience.

Dalton:
Well, with all of your years trying all these sometimes very complex cases, you've gathered some, as you said, war stories over the years. One of those stories I'd love to hear more about was the barge explosion or what exactly happened there.

Desi:
That was the Mobile River explosion that occurred April 2013. And everybody knows about that. They know where they were. You came in, you heard it in Bay Minette. You heard it in Fairhope. When you went to work the next morning in downtown Mobile, your pictures were hung the wrong way. It was that literally explosive. And we watched fireballs rise in the air. But in that case, I represented someone who was working what we call gas freeing. The barges came in, two huge barges came in, and they had to free and clean the barge from the prior load that they had. And that involved blowing fumes into the air. And so for some reason, there was a vessel that was supposed to be watching the barges. And these guys were from Louisiana. They were all watching Duck Dynasty in the Galley. And another vessel came alongside, which I don't know why. They wanted to drop somebody off. It's a larger push boat, and it's like pulling up somewhere in Dog River to let somebody off. And instead, they decided to let them off there. At that moment, everything goes wrong, and that happens. Everything goes wrong. At that moment, the blowers stopped, the fumes settled into the slip, and they got caught into the engine. And there was a huge fireball explosion. And my client was hit by the fireball and started running across, literally on fire and was able to jump into the water to save his life. And he was burned. And he's a good man. He's still living his life and still alive. And he appreciates life. A close friend of mine, and he appreciates it's not who you are, what you look like, if you appreciate your opportunities and the second lease that he's had on life.

Dalton:
Yeah, that gives you, I would imagine, a completely new perspective. And you helped give that person a second lease on life through your work after that. Just a fascinating story there. And I'm sure that just goes to show some of these cases can be so detailed and you at Tobias, McCormick and Comer you guys really just kind of get in there on the granular level and help figure it out.

Desi:
Yeah, that case, we were there the next day. I happened to have represented George's family. I tried a case for his father in law in Ocala, Florida, three or 4 years before that. He was injured down there. They knew me. They called me right away. That's how I often get alot of my clients, represented many people in the past, and they know that I go to bat for them and do everything I can. I was there the next day seeing George. He was like a mummy. But it's very complex. We work, you say, in the granular level, there were maybe seven entities on the other side, all the various maritime entities. There were maybe 10 to 12 injured people. We were in and out of New Orleans, all across the country. We may have taken 90 depositions in that case, and two and a half, three years later, it finally resolved. So it was very complicated as it gets. And we were there from day one until that matter resolved.

Dalton:
Let's talk about maritime a little bit, because that fascinates me. What exactly is maritime law? How is it different than standard law when you're on American ground? Can kind of explain that to me a little bit.

Desi:
Maritime law goes back to the common law, the law that came from England. And there's no other area that has been so consistent with that. We pretty much adopted the common law. And there was always this theme that the King didn't like the Hudson Bay Company bringing back its sailors and the King had to take care of them. So they adopted, at least in the injury part of the law, this maritime concept that has remained consistent, and it is very generally favorable for the worker as to what the the ships owe its employees, the seamen is what they're called. So it's not medical bills, it's cure. It's not paying your wages, it's maintenance. And it goes way back to a lot of those concepts.

Dalton:
Let's talk a little bit about Desi Tobias the person, because I'm sensing a theme here with Tobias, McCormick and Comer. You spent your childhood in Mobile, might have went off for a little bit of work, but came back to Mobile. And you've been here working for over a couple of decades now?

Desi:
That's right. I grew up. I moved here when I was eight. I went to parochial school here and graduated from McGill Toolen high school in 1979. I went off and spent two years at Washington and Lee but graduated from Alabama. Went to Cumberland Law School. And I did spend two years working for the Florida attorney general right out of law school, which was interesting. I had some interesting cases, went across the state of Florida on some of those. But I've been back here since 1989. I spent five years working on the insurance side of cases, and since then, it's been 30 something years at this point, or close to 30. I've worked represented people that have injured victims, mostly products cases, maritime cases, things such as that. And I've enjoyed it. I really like working on that side. It's been a pleasure trying to work with those people that I work with. And you get to know them. You get to meet them. They're all unique. They're all interesting. They all have a case and a story to tell. That's one of the things that I like to do, and that's what makes it so memorable. I've tried over 100 cases to a jury trial, maybe 125 or so at this point, my career.

Dalton:
If something happens to you offshore, something happens to you on a vessel, you need to go with a maritime lawyer. Right?

Desi:
I would agree. There are certain things that are very important that you need to make sure are done properly. And it's unique. The law is different, and it has its own proof and things like that. So somebody who's familiar with the maritime law would be somebody who you would need.

Dalton:
Desi you had some fascinating stories, and it's been great talking to you these last few minutes. If someone feels they have a case or want to learn if they have a case, what number should they call?

Desi:
251-432-5001 My office, I've been there 25 years. Dauphin Street, right next to the School of Math and Science. So if you ever go down to Dauphin Street, I'm sure you've seen that old house that's the office.

Dalton:
Very cool. And the website, of course, tmclawyers.com Desi, thank you so much for dropping by this morning.

Desi:
Thank you.

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