NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently awarded approximately $4.2 million to the family of a longshoreman who died after falling through a hole in a decommissioned oil platform.
In his Aug. 22 ruling, U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barber said Manson Gulf, a civil marine construction and dredging company, failed to prove they were not at fault in the death of James “J.J.” LaFleur in 2015.
Angie LaFluer had filed a complaint against Manson and her late husband’s employer, Modern American Recycling Services Inc., (MARS) for negligence. Though Manson argued they followed protocol on the day of the accident, MARS answered the claim asserting large holes were not properly marked on the platform.
In 2015, Manson was hired by Freeport McMoran Gas & Oil to decommission an oil drilling platform, court filings said. Manson contracted MARS to dispose of the platform when they delivered it to MARS’ dock in Gibson. Before they were to transport the platform to MARS, Manson decided to have it cut into two separate four-legged pieces, which left large holes in the platform after one of the two pieces was removed. Once Manson delivered the platform to MARS on June 16, 2015, they removed the rigging chains only warning MARS personnel that there may be excess oil on the platform.
According to MARS, it is imperative they check for excess oil as an explosion could occur if they were to cut into one of the pipes, so they sent personnel on the platform to do an inspection of the pipes. LaFluer decided to lend a hand and began walking on the platform with co-worker Jeff Smith. Smith and LaFluer looked at the pipes and LaFluer made a turn and fell through a hole in the platform, plunging 50 feet to the ground. He was taken to a hospital was later pronounced dead.
"The hole clearly posed a danger as it was at such a height to make death or grevious injury a near a certainty for anyone who fell through it,” Barber said in his judgment.
A representative for Manson claimed that it is usually costumary for a safety inspection to be done, which includes marking or covering any holes in the work area. Manson also argued that their personnel had marked holes found in an earlier safety check before they cut the holes, but they do not perform any hazard inspections when their personnel are no longer on the platform.
Smith testified that he and LaFluer saw the marks that indicated there were holes spotted earlier by Manson staff, but there were no markings or coverings for the holes Manson had cut. Smith also said that those holes were hard to see and he had no knowledge they were there until LaFluer fell. A detective on the scene agreed he could not see the hole until Smith pointed it out to him.
Barber noted that though Manson believes LaFluer should have anticipated holes on the platform, it would have been more likely for him to have done so if they were properly marked or covered.
“Manson failed to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances when it turned over the vessel to MARS and failed to warn of the hole, and failed to cover or mark the hole,” Barber said. "(LaFluer's) actions at the time of the accident were reasonable under the circumstances and he is therefore free from fault."
Barber ruled that Manson was liable for $4.2 million in damages to LaFluer's wife, Angie, and their three children.
MARS had been dismissed from the case Dec. 15, 2016.