Communication. We do it in so many ways that sometimes we need to step back and think about what we are really trying to convey and how we are going about it. 

A tug-and-barge client called a month or so ago and said that one of his tugs hit a bridge barrier with the barge on the hip. The tug captain reported minor damage to the bridge fender planks and no damage to the barge. There was no accident form to fill out, no drug testing, and no visit from the Coast Guard. However, the captain reported the allision to the state official stationed at the bridge. The bridge official said the bridge was hit all the time and “not to worry.”

Recently, I received another call and an email from the same tug-and-barge client. He presented me with a bill from a bridge repair contractor for over $150,000 and wanted to file a claim with his tug and barge insurer. I dutifully turned the claim in as fast as I could. I also had a few questions. 

First, was there any communication directed to him or anyone else between the time he was presented with the huge bill and the time of the bridge fender allision that occurred over a month before? So, my client had no contact from anyone?  

Now let’s talk about the importance of communication. The tug captain did the correct thing by contacting the bridge official. After that, however, the whole thing spiraled out of control. No photos were taken of the fender system to show that my client’s vessel did any damage. The state should have called my client and at least alleged that his tug and barge had caused repairable damage. But there was no contact. 

If I had been told early on that there might have been more damage, I could have turned the claim in to the insurer so they could investigate prior to the damage repair. 

As of now, the damage repair bill is not paid. My client’s insurance company has little hard information that shows that my client actually did the damage. The bill may end up not getting paid for by my client’s insurer. Blame it on poor communication.


A collection of stories from guest authors.