Articles Posted in Maritime Personal Injury

In an important maritime law decision protecting seaman all over the county, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Louisiana verdict secured for an injured maritime worker. Attorney Blake R. David (lead counsel) and J. Derek Aswell of Broussard & David represented the plaintiff. Guidry v. Tanner Marine, 16-61 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 10/19/16), 206 So.3d 378, writ denied (La. 1/23/17) 209 So.3d 90; writ denied (U.S. 6/12/17) 2017 WL 1494663.

In Guidry v. Tanner Services, a St. Landry Parish trial court found Ernest Guidry to be a seaman under the Jones Act and awarded general and special damages of $3,885,911.69. A 16,000 pound vibrating hammer fell on Guidry causing the amputation of his four fingers, a crushed foot, herniated discs in his neck and back, concussion, depression, post-traumatic stress, and total and permanent disability. The verdict was upheld by the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and the Supreme Court of the United States — the final judgment with judicial interest totaled over $4,280,000.00.

Defendant, Tanner Services, LLC, was awarded a contract to construct a bulkhead in Grand Isle, Louisiana beginning in January 2012. The Defendant used three barges and two tugboats to move the equipment, supplies, and store materials, as well as to act as “floating docks” or “work stations” for a crane and preparatory welding. The project also used floating mats described as a large piece of wood similar to a “raft.” Guidry spent the majority of his time on the floating raft. Previously, Guidry had been strictly a land-based shop welder for Tanner. The trial court found that he was reassigned to do maritime work, and that this reassignment changed his status to a Jones Act seaman who can recover for his catastrophic losses from his at-fault employer. The court also found that the raft was an appurtenance to the crane barge.

Jerome Moroux of the law firm Broussard and David, recently obtained a settlement of over $3.2MM on behalf of an offshore worker who sustained  an injury while entering a vessel in Vermilion Parish. The incident was unwitnessed and occurred as the worker was crossing the gangway that was not properly secured on the vessel.

Initially, the worker believed he had sustained only a twisted ankle. As he continued working offshore, however, plaintiff’s pain continued to worsen. He was ultimately diagnosed with CRPS in his right ankle and received a spinal cord stimulator in his low back for right ankle pain. Plaintiff also treated for depression following his injury.

The case was defended by ABC Boats and Doe’s employer, which denied liability and the extent of damages claimed. As to liability, defendants asserted that plaintiff misjudged the step from the gangway to the deck; defendants focused on the fact that plaintiff had provided multiple accounts of the accident to his various doctors and company representatives. Additionally, ABC Boats’s Captain testified that he observed the gangway one hour before the accident and it was properly secured; also, three passengers boarded the vessel in the hour before plaintiff and had no problems with the gangway. Concerning damages, defendants questioned the diagnosis of CRPS and denied that plaintiff’s psychological trauma were in any way related to the accident.

An interesting case recently arose out of the Northern District of California. A ferry boat captain was found partially responsible for a collision in which he was using his cell phone in the minutes before his boat wrecked into a speedboat on the San Francisco Bay.

In February of 2013, Harry Holzhauer and David Rhoades were traveling by speedboat in the San Francisco Bay when a ferry crashed into their boat. The driver, Holzhauer, was killed in the collision and Rhoades, who owned the boat, was seriously injured. The widows of Holzhauer and Rhoades both filed claims against the ferry captain and the ferry owner, alleging the captain negligently used his cell phone immediately before the accident occurred.  At the trial, Plaintiffs presented evidence that showed that the ferry made a course and speed change about two minutes before the collision and that the captain of the ferry made a two-minute cell phone call at 4:07 pm, just before the 4:09 pm collision.

After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs in the amount of $5,276,306, broken down as $3,729,559 to Rhoades and $1,546,747 to Holzhauer. Further, the jury found the ferry Captain to be 30% at fault and Holtzhauer 70% at fault, reducing Holtzhauer’s award to $464,024.00.

A recent Fifth Circuit per curiam opinion proves to be a lesson for maritime and admiralty attorneys in how to preserve issues on appeal, particularly in Jones Act jury trials.

In 2014, Plaintiff Richard Bosarge applied for employment with Cheramie Marine, L.L.C. and was hired as a relief captain. While on duty, Mr. Bosarge sustained injuries to his back when he was tossed out of his bunk when his vessel hit a large wave. Cheramie responded by arguing that the waves were not violent and alleging that Mr. Bosarge never reported any injuries to his superiors, other than some seasickness.

Mr Bosarge sued his employer under the Jones Act to recover for his back injuries. During his pre-employment physical examination, Mr. Bosarge denied having any prior back pain or injury, although he had sought medical care for back pain in the past. At trial, Defendant’s medical expert was able to compare pre-injury and post-injury MRIs of Mr. Bosarge’s back, and testified that the post-injury MRI showed less injury than the pre-injury MRI. The jury returned a zero verdict and Plaintiff appealed.

Blake R. David of the maritime law firm Broussard & David, LLC obtained a jury verdict of $3,885,911.69 on behalf of a welder who sustained injuries when a vibrating hammer fell and struck him. The verdict, awarding general damages and pre-judgment interest was affirmed by the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal. On January 23, 2017, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the application for writ of certiorari on general damages and seaman status – allowing the award to stand.

Plaintiff Ernest L. Guidry, was a welder for Defendant Tanner Services, LLC for approximately two years before he was seriously injured. The defendant was awarded a contract to build a bulkhead on Grand Isle. Tanner had both land division and maritime division crews. Plaintiff had previously worked for Tanner as a shop welder in Eunice, Louisiana, but was reassigned to the Tanner Marine Division before his injury. The project utilized three barges and two tugboats on which a floating mat and other supplies were housed. After the reassignment, Plaintiff spent his working time on the water performing preparatory work for the project, which included welding connectors, welding sheet piles, and cutting holes in the sheet piles. Plaintiff also attended job safety analysis meetings each morning on vessels with the marine division crew. Plaintiff spent approximately 90% of his time working on the water, particularly the floating mat. Plaintiff was severely injured when the vibrating hammer used to drive in piles fell and struck him. The strike caused Plaintiff to fall into the water and caused multiple injuries, including a crushed foot, a concussion, herniated discs, depression, anxiety, the amputation of four fingers, and total and permanent disability.

Defendant contended Plaintiff was not entitled to seaman status under the Jones Act, barring recovery under that statute for the serious and permanent injuries Plaintiff sustained. However, both the trial court and Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed. Both courts found Plaintiff contributed to the vessel’s function and accomplishment of the vessel’s mission and the plaintiff’s connection to the vessel fleet was substantial in duration and nature because of the amount of time he spent on the floating mat and the work he performed on the mat. These facts entitled Plaintiff to seaman status under the Jones Act, making that statute an avenue of recovery for the severe injuries Plaintiff received. Additionally, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal found that the award of general damages and prejudgment interest on the damages was not an abuse of discretion.

Last month, the Court of Appeal for Louisiana’s Third Circuit affirmed a jury verdict of $125,000.00 in compensatory damages and $23,000,000.00 in punitive damages in favor of the plaintiff, Ron Warren, in a maritime products liability case.

The incident at the heart of the case took place over ten years ago. On May 7, 2005, Derek Hebert was riding in a small boat operated by David Vamvoras. They were traveling from Mr. Vamvoras’ home to the Lake Charles Country Club via a former channel of the Calcasieu River. During the trip, the boat’s steering system completely shut down, ejecting Hebert from the craft and into the path of the propeller. The propeller struck Hebert approximately nineteen times, killing him almost instantly.  A subsequent investigation of the accident revealed that the loss of a relatively small amount of hydraulic fluid resulted in the craft’s total loss of steering.  As a result, Warren filed suit for wrongful death and survival damages against numerous parties, including the manufacturer and designer of the boat’s steering system, Teleflex.

Warren alleged that Teleflex failed to warn boat owners and passengers of the potentially catastrophic danger caused by losing just a small amount of hydraulic fluid. At trial, evidence showed that Teleflex performed tests in 1989 and 2004 which revealed that the loss of only a few teaspoons of hydraulic fluid would result in the total failure of the steering system. Plaintiff further showed Teleflex had received thousands of complaints regarding hydraulic fluid loss, but Teleflex believed the problem occurred infrequently enough that a more specific warning was not justified. The jury disagreed and awarded Warren $23,000,000.00 in punitive damages.

Several major oil companies, including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil, were recently named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in Gretna, La.  Hiemie Payne filed suit in the 24th Judicial District Court, alleging failure to inform the plaintiff of danger, failure to mark an area as dangerous, and overall negligence and carelessness.

The complaint states that Payne was an employee of Commercial Pipeline Services for three years during the 1980s.  During that time, he fulfilled a number of duties for the named companies, and was allegedly exposed to dangerously high levels of radioactive scale from products manufactured by the defendants.  Also, Payne claims that he was further injured due to the exposure to radiation in the form of aerosolized dust.

Suits of this nature pose a unique challenge, as plaintiffs must prove specifically which defendant caused him injury at what time in order to get a satisfactory verdict.  It is made that much more difficult that it took place three decades ago. The attorneys at Broussard & David have the knowledge and experience necessary to handle cases of this nature and will fight to obtain fair compensation for your injuries. If you or a loved one has suffered harm because of the fault of another, contact the attorneys at Broussard & David to discuss your legal rights at (337) 233-2323 (local) or (888) 337-2323 (toll-free).

Anthony Buffinet was aboard the Cry Baby, the fishing vessel Cry Baby, when it was struck by another vessel, according to the suit filed by Buffinet on March 29 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Purportedly, on March 25, 2013, the Cry Baby, owned and operated by Buffinet, was moored at dock in Leeville when it was struck by the DMO Resolve, owned and operated by Dale Martin Offshore LLC.  Buffinet’s suit names Dale Martin Offshore LLC as the defendant, asserting that the fault of the matter is their’s as they failed to maintain proper course and speed, failed to take preventative measures in averting the collision, and negligently operated their vessel.

In addition to damaging the Cry Baby, Buffinet himself was allegedly injured to such a degree that he has been unable to perform his usual duties and has been rendered disabled.  Additionally, he has suffered financial loss and mental pain.

Sometimes, it is the smallest things that leave the largest impact.  On or about March 14, 2014, Brent Little was an employee of Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and serving on the Liftboat Vanessa in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was at this time that a prank was allegedly played on Little.  John Barrow, a fellow crewman, allegedly slipped red tracer dye into Little’s boot.  According to reports, Little wore the tampered boot for 14 hours that day and, upon removing the boots, heard laughter and noticed pink footprints on the floor.  The die stained Little’s foot for three weeks and it was at this time that Little was informed that red tracer dye was a carcinogen.

Flash forward more than a year to May 16, 2015, when Little was involved in an automobile accident, the fallout of which required him to take a CT scan.  According to Little, the scan revealed he had thyroid cancer, forcing him to undergo a thyroidectomy and the removal of lymph nodes.

Little filed suit on March 14 of this year in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against Halliburton and John Barrow, citing negligence.  After the initial incident, Halliburton launched an investigation and found John Barrow responsible for the prank.  One such reason for Little suing Halliburton in addition to Barrow is likely that the jar of red tracer dye in question was under the care and custody of Halliburton, yet it was stored in the crew’s living quarters and had no label or warning signs that identified it as hazardous.

After allegedly suffering a work injury, Lloyd Willis, an employee of United Fire & Safety, filed a lawsuit against Woods Group PSN Inc., Energy XXI USA Inc., and JNET LLC in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on February 16, citing negligence and failure of obligations.

According to the suit, on or about June 14, 2015, Willis was being transferred from a platform to the JNET vessel via a personnel basket attached to a crane.  JNET is owned by Energy XXI and was located in South Timbalier Block 26A in the Gulf of Mexico.  Willis alleges the basket struck the vessel with such force as to cause injury, and that the named defendants acted in a negligent manner when they failed to observe safety measures, failed to exercise reasonable care, and failed to provide proper tools and a safe work environment.

As a result of the blow, Willis allegedly suffered a possible ruptured disk, nerve damage, injuries to his bones, muscle joints, and organs, as well as general body trauma and resultant medical expenses.