Appellate court affirms that maritime law applies in case involving injured offshore well worker

By Sam Knef | Mar 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that maritime law applies in the case of an injured offshore natural-gas well worker on a fixed production platform.

In an opinion filed on Feb. 23, the court found that defendants Specialty Rental Tools & Supply LLP, Oil States Energy Services and Zurich American Insurance Co. were contractually obligated to defend and indemnify plaintiffs Larry Doiron Inc. and Robert Jackson over the injuries suffered by flow-back operator Peter Savoie.

Larry Doiron provided the crane that was operated by Jackson.

"We conclude the question is close but agree that the specific contract at issue, which was an oral work order in effect at the time of injury, should be considered maritime," Judge Leslie Southwick wrote.

Judges Eugene Davis and James Dennis also participated in the decision.

The appeal arose from federal court in the Western District of Louisiana involving an incident that took place six years ago at an offshore well in West Lake Verret in the Atchafalaya Basin.

According to details in the court opinion, Savoie and co-worker Matt Delahoussaye had been assigned on Feb. 24, 2011 to perform flow-back operation. After being unsuccessful, Savoie told a company representative that additional equipment was needed. He allegedly asked for a flow-back iron, hydraulic choke manifold and hydraulic gate valve, as well as a crane barge in order to move additional equipment deemed too heavy for workers to remove from the wellhead.

Larry Doiron then provided the crane barge for use at the Apache well.

On a second unsuccessful day of flow-back operations, Savoie allegedly informed a company representative that a coiled tubing unit was needed. Operations shut down until one could be obtained. Savoie began “rigging down” and directed Jackson to lower the crane, according to court documents. 

"Instead, Savoie reported the crane came toward him and 'knocked [him] off balance,'" the opinion stated. "He clutched the crane to avoid falling backward but eventually lost his grip, which caused him to fall approximately 8 feet onto the deck of the barge. His accident resulted in 'a crush-type injury to the right lower extremity.'”

Later in the year, Larry Doiron made a formal demand of the defendants to indemnify it from any claims brought by Savoie, which was rejected.

Larry Doiron then filed a vessel owner limitation action for exoneration from liability.

In his answer, Savoie alleged he was injured by Larry Doiron's negligence and through no fault of his own.

A third-party complaint was then filed by Larry Doiron against the defendants, in which Jackson intervened seeking protection under a master services contract and the Zurich insurance policy.

Eventually, the defendants settled with Savoie, and the district court divided the indemnity claims from the personal-injury case, according to the opinion.

The district court also granted a summary judgment motion filed by Larry Doiron and Jackson, and denied a cross-motion filed by defendants.

Finally, the parties jointly moved to dismiss the claims that were not resolved by summary judgment and “for entry of final judgment on the others.”

They reserved the right to appeal the “limited issue whether defendants were contractually obligated to defend and indemnify.”

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