Hard manual labor is a necessary part of working offshore. The physical demands can be intense and strenuous. However, there are protocols and safety policies in place to safeguard the well-being of maritime workers. Job Safety Analysis, Control of Work Plans, and THINK Process are just a few examples of the measures in place to protect workers. When those measures are ignored and disregarded, hard-working people like our client get injured and suffer the consequences.
In August of 2015, our client was a motorman working aboard a drillship in the Gulf of Mexico. On the day of his injury, the drillship had received several pallets of 5-gallon buckets which needed to be individually moved to their designated locations on the ship. Our client was instructed by his supervisor to carry these 50 lb-buckets down several flights of stairs to the pump room below deck.
To perform the task as required, our client carried buckets one by one below deck. On the stairs, he had one hand on the handrail while the other carried the heavy bucket. After putting a bucket in the pump room, he would climb the stairs back to the main deck. He then repeated this process roughly thirty-five times until the job was completed. With about five buckets left to carry, he started feeling pain in his back.
Our client awoke the next morning with pain in his left hip that radiated down his leg into his foot. He took Aleve for a few days and continued to work, assuming it was just a tight muscle. The back and leg pain and discomfort/numbness increased over the next few days and he reported his pain to the rig medic on September 4, 2015. At that point, he was confined to the rig’s hospital until he was sent to shore for medical treatment.
Once back onshore, it became clear that our client was suffering from some serious injuries. His MRI showed multiple herniated discs that required surgery. In October 2015, he had an L4-5 laminectomy, participated in physical therapy, had a Functional Capacity Evaluation, and was able to briefly return back to work offshore. However, this was short-lived as he continued to have pain and difficulty performing his job duties. His leg began giving out on him and even caused him to fall down the stairs back home, resulting in an injury to his right shoulder.
In order to manage the pain and increasing problems, he had to get multiple invasive spine surgeries, including several discectomies, a fusion from L4-S1, and the installation of a permanent spinal cord stimulator. At this point, it was clear that his job as a motorman was no longer feasible.
We had an expert economist and several doctors evaluate our client for vocational rehabilitation and life care plan purposes. Ultimately they concluded that, due to his injuries and inability to go back offshore, our client would be forced to find different work. This would result in a massive pay decrease from $90,000/year to roughly $8/hr ($16,000/year). Keep in mind that a household of 2 has a poverty threshold of $17,240/year. Needless to say, this pay decrease would have devastating effects on our client’s life.
After filing a Jones Act claim on his behalf, the company immediately began pushing back with multiple counter-arguments.
They denied that our client was ever instructed to manually carry 5-gallon buckets from the main deck downstairs to the pump room. This is not surprising because such a task violates the company’s safety policies. However, the company was unable to produce the Job Safety Analysis (JSA) forms or any other documents specifically showing the work our client performed on the day of the accident. So the company was unable to disprove our client’s claim that he was instructed to move these buckets.
To further prove our case, we obtained documents from the company showing that the 5 gallons buckets were in fact in the rig’s inventory. This proved that buckets were present on the rig and would have needed to be moved around the rig.
A liability expert determined that the company violated its own safety policies by failing to have a Control of Work Plan, by failing to conduct a THINK Process and/or JSA. Additionally, the liability expert showed that the company should have used the ship’s crane/hoist to lower the buckets into the pump room. The company violated its own manual handling safety policies (max. manual handling 25 lbs.) by requiring our client to move the buckets below deck.
Because of prior back problems, the company also argued that his injuries were not caused by the accident. However, before his accident, our client had worked on the drillship without complaints of pain to his spine or legs. In fact, he had completed at least two 21-day hitches as a motorman on the drillship without any back or leg complaints before joining the vessel in August 2015 when the accident occurred. His MRIs showed a distinct difference before and after the day of the accident proving that the incident on the drillship caused these current problems.
Despite the company fighting back on this claim, we were able to beat their counter-arguments. Our client received a fair settlement to cover his medical expenses, damages, and future wage loss.