Articles Posted in Offshore Accidents

Offshore-PlatformContract interpretation can be tough, but having a competent attorney review documents before you sign them goes a long way in avoiding surprises further down the line. This is important because the words that are not there are often just as important as the words that are, a lesson learned the hard way by Chet Morrison Well Services, L.L.C.

In 2008 Chet Morrison was retained by Palm Energy Offshore, L.L.C. to service two mineral wells at sea. To that end Chet Morrison contracted with Offshore Marine Contractors, Inc. to charter the Nicole , a vessel with extendable legs that are used to stabilize the ship at sea while the ship performs maintenance work on the mineral wells.

The Nicole Eymard departed Louisiana on July 18th and worked at a well located in the C37 block until July 27th. On the 27th the Nicole Eymard was sent to a well located in the WD55 block at the request of Palm Energy. After the repairs were completed on August 1st it was discovered that one of the legs of the Nicole Eymard was stuck. The ship remained there until August 18th when Offshore Marine Contractors ordered the leg severed. Once back in port the Nicole Eymard went through repairs, which were finished on October 10th.

It is vital to know proper court procedures at the outset of litigation or else an otherwise valid claim might be thrown out of court without ever being heard. One prime example is the need to send initial court documents to a defendant within a set deadline (sending such documents, such as a citation or summons, is known as service of process). Case in point, the Lafayette Parish Court of Appeal, in Boka v. Oller, recently upheld the dismissal of a claim without even considering the merits because service of process was delivered too late. Therefore, it is important to know the rules before bringing a lawsuit or a good claim might be lost due to a mere technicality, such as delivering papers too late. For a non-lawyer, an attorney can be instrumental in making sure proper procedures are followed so that the party has a chance to present their case in court.

In Lafayette Parish, Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1201 requires that service of the citation must be requested within a deadline of ninety days from commencement of the action. Article 1201 also notes that service of process on defendants is “essential” and “without them all proceedings are absolutely null.” The deadline for service is to ensure that defendants are aware of an action and have enough to prepare. Therefore, as a delay in service is deemed unfair to the defendant, a court may dismiss a claim if service of process is sent too late.

There are some limited exceptions to the rule, but, due to the risks involved in these exceptions, generally a party should attempt to serve process on time. For example, one exception permits late service if there is good cause for the delay. However, as the court is unlikely to accept run-of-the-mill excuses for delays, proving a good cause for failure to serve process on time can be difficult. As noted below, the court in Lafayette Parish found that there was no good cause for late service as the plaintiff knew the defendant’s address.

The Jones Act is a law that provides seamen the chance to bring personal injury suits against the owners and operators of vessels they are working on in cases where the owner or operator was negligent or in some other way at fault for the injury. One of the types of damage allowable under the Jones Act is that of maintenance and cure. In maritime law, maintenance is the employee’s daily living expenses and cure is the employee’s medical bills. If an employer has to pay maintenance and cure, they will only have to pay such costs until the seaman is either fit for duty, or at a point where added medical treatment will not improve his condition. This case goes into further detail about what is necessary for a plaintiff to receive an award for maintenance and cure in a Jones Act case, and the relationship between maintenance and cure and worker’s compensation in Louisiana.

In this case, the plaintiff was performing sandblasting and plating work on an offshore rig. While performing this work, the plaintiff slept and ate aboard the M/V Howard McCall, stored equipment on the vessel, and used the vessel as a work platform on several occasions. After the initial work on the rig was done, the plaintiff was brought back to the vessel to perform sandblasting work on the vessel itself. During this period of work, the plaintiff sustained injuries while exiting the ship’s wheelhouse. The plaintiff soon began receiving payments from the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Commission who was the employer’s insurer.

Subsequently the plaintiff filed suit against both of the owners and the operator of the vessel under the Jones Act. The plaintiff made three basic claims: 1) the owners and operator of the vessel were negligent in maintaining the safety of the vessel, 2) the vessel was unseaworthy, and 3) the owners and operators owed him costs for maintenance and cure. During the jury trial, the negligence and unseaworthiness claims were dismissed, and the remaining claim of maintenance and cure was the only claim left. The jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded him awards of maintenance and cure. The defendants appealed the jury’s award.

A class action suit occurs when a group of people bring a case together as representatives of an entire class of people who are similarly situated. In order to bring a class action in Louisiana, a judge must certify the class. This means that the class of plaintiffs meets the requirements for their class action to go forward. One of the requirements a class must meet to be certified is that it must have what is known as numerosity. In Louisiana numerosity is defined as meaning that the class is too large for the individual plaintiffs to pursue their claims separately or it is too large for the individual plaintiffs to be joined to the case in a practical manner. The following case illustrates what happens when questions about numerosity arise in a class action.

On May 15, 2009 a vacuum truck owned and operated by Environmental Services, Inc. was driving on Louisiana Highway 27 between Singer and DeQuincy when a valve broke and 300-500 gallons of motor oil leaked out onto the highway. The leak was discovered when the truck arrived in DeQuincy, and the impacted portion of the highway was closed within approximately 15 minutes of the truck’s arrival.

The plaintiffs seeking to certify this class action brought suit alleging that they suffered physical injury due to inhaling the fumes from the spilled motor oil and also alleged that they suffered damage to their vehicles and livestock in their vehicles from driving over the spilled oil. The plaintiffs sought to certify a class that included everyone who drove over the spilled oil before it was cleaned up.

Over the years, major advances in the field of transportation have made it relatively easy for people to move about the country. Many people find themselves in indefinite living situations, changing jobs, going to college or maybe just moving to a new area. In these types of circumstances, ownership may not be all that intriguing or feasible. Luckily, on the other end of the spectrum, there are usually handfuls of owners looking to rent or lease out their property. This perfect alignment of supply and demand leads to frequent property agreements. Although one hopes that everything runs smoothly throughout the occupation, inevitably sometimes accidents or problems may occur.

One specific type of problem that can be faced deals with the question of who is responsible for injuries or damages that result from a defect in the premises in which someone is not the owner. It is also important to note that agreements involving homeownership are not the only circumstances in which these particular problems may arise. Alternatively, one may find themselves injured somewhere they are visiting or momentarily staying at such as a hotel, museum, or baseball game.

In the state of Louisiana, in order to recover under the theory of premises liability, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. The plaintiff would likely be the one who does not own the premises and has been injured in some way. The plaintiff’s burden under Louisiana law consists of proving four things: 1) that the injuries were caused by a defect in the defendant’s premises that created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff; 2) that the defendant knew or should have known of the defect; 3) that the damage could have been prevented by the use of reasonable care; and, 4) that the defendant failed to exercise such reasonable care.

The term wrongful death refers to cases in which the decedent’s death was the fault of another. The other “person” could be one individual, such as someone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; it could also be a group of people or a business, such as the decedent’s employers or the manufacturers of a product whose defect or malfunctioning resulted in the user’s death. Wrongful death lawsuits may be initiated by family members of the decedent in order to obtain monetary benefits, such as for wages the decedent would have earned if he were still alive. Before filing a lawsuit, it is important to establish whether the person bringing the case has standing to do so. Standing indicates that the moving party has a sufficient connection to or is substantially affected by the harm being alleged, in this case the wrongful death of the victim.

In order to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must have standing as a close relative of the deceased. The first family members who would be favored to have standing would be the decedent’s spouse and children. Louisiana Civil Code states that the surviving mother or father of the deceased may only have standing if there is no spouse or child surviving the decedent. If the deceased had no surviving parents, spouse or child, then his or her brothers or sisters would have standing to bring a lawsuit. Finally, if the decedent had no surviving siblings, spouse, parents or children, then his or her grandparents would have standing to file a wrongful death claim. Note that a mother or father who abandoned the decedent while he or she was still a minor would not have standing.

Though children are the first to have standing in a wrongful death case, standing may be challenged when the parentage is called into question. A Louisiana court stated that “a filiation action inherently accompanies an illegitimate child’s wrongful death and survival action.” Thus, children born out of wedlock, that is, to parents who were not married at the time of birth, must be able to prove paternity in order to have standing. According to Louisiana law, a husband will be presumed to be the parent of a child when the child is born within 300 days of the termination of a marriage (300 being considered the maximum possible time of gestation). Outside of this exception, proceedings must be conducted to establish standing.

The Jones Act deals with injuries suffered by employees working on American sea-going vessels and their rights to workers’ compensation for those injuries. The Act requires employers to “maintain a reasonably safe work environment.” Another important feature of the Jones Act is that not only is the employer liable for the negligence of their employees, but also any amount of negligence on the employer’s part will result in some level of liability. In other words, in a Jones Act case, if one employee negligently injures another, both the offendin employee and their employer are liable.

The case of Martinez v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, Inc. deals with a Jones Act claim and really brings to light how important it is to obtain quality legal representation. Mr. Martinez was a seaman employed by Offshore Specialty Fabricators as a mechanic. On May 26, 2008, he and his supervisor, Mr. Smith, went aboard a ship owned by Offshore to repair a defective winch. Both Martinez and Smith testified that the work space was very cramped and required them to bend over while swinging a sledgehammer for almost an hour when suddenly Martinez felt a pop in his neck. Smith testified that he saw Martinez visibly twitch and asked what was wrong. Martinez informed him that something was wrong with his neck, and Smith immediately told him stop working.

Shortly after the injury he told an on-board medic about soreness in his arm due to using the sledgehammer. Two days later Martinez visited another medic and told him that he was unable to move his head or jaw without shooting pain in his neck and shoulder. He was also interviewed by a claims adjuster hired by Offshore and told the adjuster that his injury was due to the cramped working conditions and hammering.

Under Louisiana law, there are very specific rules about how to properly serve someone, and one of the important aspects of service that an attorney has to get right is the timing of it. Furthermore, not only does the service have to be carried out in a timely manner, but it also has to be perfected properly.

This particular Supreme Court of Louisiana case dealt with service on a state entity, and it is important for your attorney to be aware of any differences that exist with regard to service requirements depending on who the other party is. According to the applicable state law, La. R.S. 13:850, “perfecting” a service request requires that the appropriate filing fees and transmission fees have been received by the clerk of the court and that the original signed document has been received by the clerk. All of this must be received within the proper timeframe. As stated in La. R.S. 13:850, the proper timeframe for perfection in this case is seven days.

In this case, the service request was received within the required ninety-day timeframe (ninety days since the filing of the petition), and the service request was perfected five days later once the requisite documents and fee payments were received by the clerk of the court. The question then is whether or not this counts as proper request for service: Was the request for service properly received within ninety days even though perfection of the request was outside of that ninety-day timeframe?

In order to aid the court, a judge might occasionally appoint an expert to help with specific aspects of the case. Court-appointed experts are different from a specific party’s experts because the court-appointed experts do not favor one side or the other, but rather, help the judge with certain tasks or analyses.

A trial court-appointed expert can be especially useful in a class action lawsuit in which several people have a claim against the defendant and there is no way that the court can hear each individual person’s case. In that instance, a court-appointed expert can help properly group the members of the class action lawsuit and help bring order to an otherwise unwieldy case.

In a recent case from Orleans Parish, the appellate court had to determine when a court-appointed expert is proper and what the limits of such an expert’s duties should be. Before getting into the applicable Louisiana law and how the appellate court ultimately ruled, some knowledge of the background facts is useful: The case from Orleans Parish was a class action lawsuit in which several employees were suing over medical problems they experienced from working in a building that had serious mold damage. Over 600 individuals had claims in the suit, and in order to deal with the case in a more organized and manageable manner, the class was to be broken up into various groups. In order to help with this enormous task, the trial court stated that it wanted to appoint an expert to help group individuals according to damages. Each party was allowed to submit nominations and discuss any issues they felt might arise if such an expert was appointed. Ultimately, an expert was appointed to help with the necessary tasks, and after the case was decided at the trial court level, the State argued that the court-appointed expert had outstepped his appropriate boundaries.

The United States of America was founded on a Constitution that still serves as the supreme law of the land in our country today. Each state created its own constitution to be the supreme law throughout the state and second only to the Constitution of the United States. Many claims are made throughout the United States are based on the constitutionality of particular laws or statutes enacted by different states. However, very few of these challenges will ever make it to the Supreme Court of the United States where a final decision can be made on the the constitutionality of a challenged law.  For an appellate court to rule on a constitutional challenge,  it must have been “properly raised and pleaded in the trial court below.” This means that the sole issue of the case at bar must be a determination on the constitutionality of a particular state action.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana heard a case where this exact issue and rule was raised. It arose from a claim made by Mr. Vincent E. Johnson against Motiva Enterprises, LLC (“Motiva”) for damages arising out of his exposure to toxic chemicals while working at a Motiva refinery in Norco, LA. The constitutional issue arose because Motiva had protected themselves from being sued by the plaintiff because of a contract with its direct employers. Therefore, this case turned more onto the issue of the validity of this contractual agreement between and employer (Motiva) and employee (Mr. Johsnon).

The trial court found that the contract was valid and refused to deliver an opinion on the constitutionality issue of the Louisiana statute allowing for this particular contract. It is a known fact that courts shy away from determining the constitutionality of legislation unless the resolution of the constitutional issue is absolutely essential to the decision of the case.