We recently settled a multiple-plaintiff, two-defendant maritime case. In this case, a privately-chartered fishing boat struck an improperly-maintained gas platform killing one passenger and severely injuring several others. We took the case to trial and the jury ruled in our clients’ favor giving them the largest settlement ever awarded in Terrebonne Parish.
On July 21, 2017, six friends from Dallas in their upper 40s and 50s chartered a fishing boat in Southeast Louisiana. The boat was captained by a professional charter boat fisherman who had years of experience navigating Louisiana’s coast.
They spent the day fishing and then as nightfall drew, the captain began their journey back to camp. Unbeknownst to the captain, a platform belonging to a gas company lay across his course. Normally this would not be a problem as platforms are legally required to be lit, as mandated by Title 33 CFR Parts 64, 66, and 67. When done so, platforms are easily visible from miles away.
Unfortunately, that was not the case for this particular platform. Because the platform had been removed from the oil company’s work order system, it had not been inspected for several years, and as a result, was not lit. Under the dark of night, with only a waning crescent moon to guide the way, the platform was completely invisible.
The boat was running full tilt with the hull lifted out over the water as it raced ahead. The charter boat crashed into the unlit platform and upon impact, three of the friends were thrown overboard.
One passenger landed on the platform and subsequently fell into the water. Lake water entered his lungs, but he survived. Of the remaining two passengers who were catapulted overboard, one landed in the water and suffered a cracked left shoulder. The other landed in front of the boat, which ran him over, causing deep gash wounds to his torso. Though his friends pulled him from the lake and applied pressure to his wounds, the boat’s propellor and rudder had cut him too deeply; he died of massive blood loss in the boat before it could make it back to shore.
The remaining three friends and the captain were badly jostled upon impact. Their injuries varied in severity but included a sprained wrist with tendon damage, a gash above the eye as well back, shoulder, neck, and hip injuries. In addition, two of the passengers sustained traumatic brain injuries. All of the living passengers suffered emotionally from this terrible, but preventable accident.
After the tragic accident, our clients spent months healing both physically and emotionally. It was a traumatizing ordeal that left them with permanent scars. Even with treatment, some of our clients did not make a full physical recovery. One, who sustained a traumatic brain injury, struggled with cognitive decline and depression. He also began to use alcohol to cope with his mental issues. In addition to the lasting physical impacts of the accident, the surviving friends suffered severe PTSD, so severe that it disrupted their sleep and daily ability to function.
We filed suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of three surviving passengers and the deceased. In this case, we named both the gas company and fishing charter as defendants. Both parties were negligent for different reasons. Whereas the gas company failed to maintain and light the platform, the boat captain operated the boat at an unsafe speed and allowed the passengers to ride on the bow of the boat — a practice known to increase the chances of being run over if the passenger is thrown overboard. Had the passenger who died not been allowed to ride on the bow of the boat, it is likely that he would not have perished in the accident.
In this maritime case, we sought recovery for five types of damages:
In this open and shut case, the defendants were clearly at fault, however, they refused to settle the case at mediation despite our multiple attempts to do so. We were forced to take the case to trial in front of a jury. The trial lasted two weeks during which the jury listened to our clients’ depositions, their treating physicians, other witnesses as well as representatives from the oil company. We showed them the accident reports from the USCG, the expert liability reports, and the slew of company records revealing that the platform had been neglected for years.
By the end of the two weeks, the jury voted in our favor and awarded the largest settlement that the courtroom had ever seen. The specific amount of this substantial settlement remains confidential, but it is in the multi-millions.
Though our clients’ lives will never be the same, they ultimately received the justice and compensation that was owed them and were able to move on from this devastating experience.