NEW ORLEANS — The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has dismissed a lawsuit against Hercules Offshore Services LLC brought by a former galley hand on an oil rig.
Denetra Thomas alleged she was injured on May 26, 2013 when she worked aboard Hercules 264, a mobile offshore drilling unit.
Thomas alleged that she was injured when her left foot struck the raised doorsill between a stateroom and a bathroom.
After being taken ashore to treat the injury, Thomas was diagnosed with a lumbar strain and a right hip contusion.
Thomas filed a lawsuit on Jan. 26, 2015, alleging negligence, unseaworthiness under general maritime law as well as a claim for maintenance and cure benefits.
Hercules asked the court to dismiss the liability allegations as well as the claims for maintenance and cure, saying Thomas shouldn’t get payments because she didn’t disclose previous injuries in her employment application.
The court dismissed liability allegations because Thomas failed to do three things to prove negligence. First, she didn’t prove there was violation of a Coast Guard regulation.
Second, the court said it didn’t find evidence of others tripping over the doorsill.
Third, the court needed expert testimony to prove that the raised doorsill caused an unsafe condition.
“Because Thomas wholly failed to offer any evidence to show that the raised doorsill constituted an unsafe condition, the district court properly granted summary judgment as to the negligence claim brought under the Jones Act,” the court said.
As for allegations of seaworthiness, the court said Thomas didn’t have any evidence to prove that the raised doorsill made the vessel unsuitable for the sea.
“The district court also pointed out that the doorsill did not violate a Coast Guard regulation,” the court said. “Indeed, it was undisputed that the Coast Guard regulations may require higher doorsills than the one at issue at various locations on the Hercules 264.”
In regards to maintenance and cure, the court first noted a general law that says an employer “must pay maintenance and cure to any seaman who becomes ill or suffers an injury while in the service of the vessel, regardless of whether either party was negligent.”
However, in dismissing that claim, the court said an employer can deny a claim for maintenance and cure after investigation.
This law, known as The McCorpen defense, is applied when an “injured seaman has willfully concealed from his employer a pre-existing medical condition,” according to the court.
Court documents said Thomas signed the part of the application that said she had “never sustained an injury or sought medical attention for a physical problem.”
The court added that Thomas checked "No" when she was asked if she had ever been treated for “Disorder of the neck/back, spine, knee, bones, arthritis, muscles, joints, and leg or arm pain.”
However, looking at Thomas’ deposition from 2008, the court said Thomas admitted that she had been in a car accident that injured her back.
Thomas argued that it wasn’t necessary for her to disclose medical information because she had already passed an extensive physical test to get the job.
“The district court did not err in finding that the concealed injuries were material to Hercules’s decision to hire her,” the appeals court said.
Thomas also had to prove that there where no connection between her previous injuries and her injury at work.
However, the court ruled that her injuries are in fact related.
“Thomas’s previous, concealed injuries and her current injuries both involve her lower back and neck,” the appeals court said. “Thus, the district court properly held that the McCorpen defense entitled Hercules to summary judgment as to the maintenance and cure claim.”