OFFSHORE PLATFORM ACCIDENT LAWYER
Before 1969, maritime law applied to cases brought for personal injury or death by offshore workers and their families concerning accidents which occurred on fixed offshore drilling and production platforms. In that year, the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide the case of two Louisiana oilfield workers, Dore and Rodrigue, killed on a fixed offshore platform located in the Gulf of Mexico, about eighteen miles out from Grand Isle, Louisiana. The Supreme Court said that it was the law of the adjacent state—in this case, Louisiana— which applied to the cases of Dore and Rodrique, not maritime law.
For 28 years, Larry has practiced as a wrongful death and personal injury attorney for offshore workers and their families. One such case is Fontenot versus Ensco, which was tried in federal court in Lafayette, Louisiana, and can be read about on the case results page. His experience with offshore platform cases involving a drilling rig or oilfield accident is extensive, making him the lawyer to come to for any maritime personal injury. Larry works harder than any other attorney to make sure that his clients get fair compensation for their personal injury, and has incredible knowledge of maritime law. However, he is not only an aggressive offshore drilling and platform accident trial lawyer; he also treats each client with a unique sensitivity. Larry Curtis is a maritime accident attorney who cares, and will fight hard for his clients.
One of Larry Curtis’ great successes is the case of Fontenot versus Ensco, which was tried in federal court in Lafayette, Louisiana. The offer before trial was $50,000.00. With Larry’s help, Fontenot received fair compensation; the jury returned a verdict for Fontenot in the sum of $1, 190,000.00, assigning 75% of the fault to Ensco and 25% of the fault to Fontenot.
This action arose out of an accident on a fixed drilling platform. Fontenot, then 30 years old, alleged that he was injured as a result of the negligence of the defendant ENSCO Platform Company, formerly Dual Marine Company, while working in the course of his employment with Weatherford-Enterra Company, which had been hired to provide offshore casing services to their customer, Mesa Operating Limited Partnership.
On April 8, 1996, Fontenot was working as a Service Tech II employed by Weatherford. Weatherford had entered into a Master Dual Service Contract with Mesa to provide—among other things—offshore casing services. Fontenot, along with several co-employees, was dispatched to Mesa’s permanent platform located at South Marsh Island 155. The defendant ENSCO had also contracted with Mesa to perform drilling work at South Marsh Island 155. The defendant’s rig, “Dual Rig No. 23” (a drilling rig), was situated on Mesa’s platform. On the day of the accident, Fontenot was working as a member of Weatherford’s Casing crew at South Marsh Island 155. The casing operation was underway at the time of the plaintiff’s accident. Fontenot used a mud line, owned by ENSCO, to fill each joint of casing as the work proceeded. The mud line was connected to a mud pump also owned by ENSCO.
Fontenot argued that ENSCO was obligated, by the very terms of its contract with Mesa, to provide a “charging pump” which, among other things, would be used to perform operations like the casing operation which was then in progress. The evidence established that the “charging pump” was not made available for the casing operation. The “charging pump” is a low-pressure pump relative to the rig mud pump. The defendant’s tool-pusher decided to connect the mud line to the rig mud pump.
Fontenot contended that the individuals involved in this casing operation had little, if any, experience using a rig mud pump. Fontenot specifically argued that the driller on tour had virtually no experience with an operation like this. Fontenot argued that notwithstanding the driller’s lack of experience, this high-pressure rig mud pump was under the sole and exclusive control of the driller on tour; i.e., the driller on tour was the only individual involved in this operation who could control the speed of the mud passing through the mud line.
As the work progressed, the plaintiff would signal the driller to turn the rig mud pump on and off. This would cause the mud flow to start and stop. At the very moment of the accident, the plaintiff had signaled the driller to activate the rig mud pump.
The driller responded by turning the mud pump “on,” but he caused the rig mud pump to be run “wide open.” The force of the mud hitting the plaintiff caused him to be propelled more than 15 feet into the derrick. As a result of this accident, Fontenot suffered a severe crush injury to his right hand and injuries to his cervical and lumbar spine.
Fontenot alleged that the defendant ENSCO was liable for Fontenot’s accident and resulting injuries, due to its negligence in failing to provide the proper pump to facilitate safe performance of the work and in failing to assign an experienced driller to the project. Fontenot additionally alleged that the defendant ENSCO was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee driller in allowing the rig mud pump to be run wide open when signaled by the Fontenot to activate the pump.
Fontenot’s expert petroleum engineer testified that the manner in which the rig mud pump was lined up on the fill-up line at the time of the accident in question constituted a hazardous condition and gave rise to an unsafe workplace. This expert also maintained that a low-pressure centrifugal mud pump should have been lined up on the casing fill line. The expert went on to say that if this were not possible, then a mud pit gun or a hopper line should have been left open, and the rig pump run at a very slow rate. This would have allowed enough mud to fill up the casing without too much pressure.
The defendant ENSCO denied liability for Fontenot’s injuries and maintained that Fontenot was solely responsible for his accident due to the allegedly improper method in which he was conducting his work at the time of the injury. The operations being conducted aboard Dual Rig No. 23 on the day in question included the running of casing by Weatherford, Fontenot’s employer, for Mesa. Dual, now ENSCO, was also working for Mesa.
The defendant argued that while the Weatherford crew, which included Fontenot, was running casing in the hole, Fontenot suddenly, without warning and contrary to previous instructions, closed the valve on the mud line he was using to fill the casing with drilling fluid (mud) and when he opened the valve, the pressure which built up behind the valve released, causing the mud to shoot out with great force, hitting the plaintiff and propelling him into the derrick.
The defendant noted that Fontenot, being an employee of Weatherford, received his training from Weatherford supervisors and not from ENSCO. The defendant concluded, therefore, that ENSCO acted reasonably under the circumstances, since it had no previous warning that the plaintiff would act irrationally and contrary to normal and customary procedures. The plaintiff specifically denied closing the valve on the mud line and his testimony in this regard was supported by two co-employees.
Fontenot’s treating hand surgeon testified that he suffered a crush injury to the right hand, fractured middle phalanx, and fractured right long finger. He required open reduction and internal fixation of the right long finger, reconstruction of the extensor tendon with tendon graft extending from mid-joint to distal joint. Fontenot’s treating orthopedic surgeon testified that he suffered soft tissue injuries to the neck, right shoulder, and cervical and lumbar spine.
Fontenot’s expert clinical psychologist performed an intellectual evaluation for the purposes of assessing his potential for re-training. This expert concluded that his testing placed Fontenot’s intellectual functioning at the upper end of the range of mild mental retardation. This expert maintained that given this level of intellectual functioning, it is highly unlikely that Fontenot could be trained in any type of vocation or occupation that required reading, writing or reasoning skills. This expert opined that the only viable alternatives for any type of occupational training were in the physical or manual labor fields.
Fontenot’s vocational rehabilitation expert testified that Fontenot will have difficulty obtaining and maintaining employment in his geographical area, given his disability and intellectual ability. Fontenot’s expert economist testified that Fontenot suffered lost earnings capacity in the range of $1,081,121.
The jury found the defendant ENSCO 75% liable and Fontenot 25% comparatively negligent. The jury returned a gross verdict of $1,190,000, broken down as follows: $43,000 in past medical specials; $35,000 past loss of earnings; $800,000 future loss of earnings; $125,000 physical pain and suffering past, present and future; $130,000 mental pain and suffering past present and future; and $57,000 past present and future disability.