Oil drilling and exploration aboard offshore drilling rigs can result in serious injuries and even fatalities. Having graduated from as an engineer from a merchant marine academy, acquired three U.S. Coast Guard licenses and worked aboard oil drilling rigs for six years, board certified maritime attorney Keith Brais with the law firm of Brais Law Firm is in a unique position to help oil rig drilling platform workers who due to an accident suffer serious personal injury or death.
The lawyers at the law firm of Brais Law Firm with offices in Miami, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts are here to help oil rig drilling platform workers as a result of an offshore or crew boat accident resulting in personal injury or death.
One need not look further than the recent explosion in the Gulf of Mexico to confirm the dangers associated with offshore work. The rig, of course, is the Transocean Deepwater Horizon. British Petroleum (BP) leased the rig and land being drilled. Halliburton was the contractor hired to put in place cement plugs. These types of accidents often occur because of worn or defective equipment, improper safety precautions, and improper or insufficient training.
All too often safety is compromised in an effort to reduce costs. The players are the company leasing the rig, in this instance BP and its “company man” versus the owner of the rig, in this instance Transocean and its “Rig Superintendent”, “Tool Pusher” or “Driller”. Every company leasing a rig at hundreds of thousands of dollars a day wants the well drilled and tested quickly. On the other hand, a rig owner is not overly concerned with “speed.” The rig operator is, after all, receiving a large sum of money for each day the rig is on site and operating. Therein lies the conflict.
Few attorneys, if any, have a greater appreciation of the dangers associated with working offshore than Keith Brais. Keith Brais worked aboard offshore drilling rigs from 1981 to 1987. During this period, he worked as an engineer trainee, roustabout, roughneck, derrick hand and assistant driller (the person second in command of drill floor operations). In the course of his training, he acquired an MMSS-OCS-TI: Well Control, Surface Stack & Subsea Stack, Blow-Out Prevention (“BOP”) Course, Driller Level Certificate. He worked in the Mediterranean, off the West Coast of Africa and in the Gulf of Mexico on all known types of rigs. Keith Brais’ experience includes time working directly on Cameron blowout preventers, tripping pipe, running casing, lowering and raising sub-sea BOPs, setting cement plugs and all other aspects of oil drilling and exploration.
The law governing offshore operations is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Acts (OCSLA or OCS Lands Act). Under the OCS Lands Act federal agencies regulate every phase of exploration, production and development of oil and gas. The Act provides that it is “the duty of any holder of a lease or permit … to:
- maintain all places of employment within the lease area … in compliance with occupational safety and health standards and … free from recognized hazards to employees;
- maintain all operations … in compliance with regulations intended to protect persons … on the outer Continental Shelf.”
Any resident of the United States who is injured through the failure of an operator to comply with any rule, regulation, order, or permit issued … may bring an action for damages. The application of admiralty jurisdiction over workers engaged in offshore operations depends upon three variables:
- The type of craft or structure involved (whether or not it qualifies as a “vessel”);
- The status of the injured party (seaman, maritime worker or some other category); and
- The location of the platform at the time of the injury (whether it is within or beyond the limit of state jurisdiction).
An evaluation of the above factual criteria will determine issues regarding jurisdiction and control by federal law on the one hand versus coastal states on the other.
A threshold determination is whether the injury occurred on a fixed offshore platform versus a floating structure. If it is determined the accident occurred aboard a fixed offshore platform, the OSC Lands Act makes the law of the adjacent state (to the extent not inconsistent with the Federal Law) applicable as “surrogate” federal Law and the worker will likely not be allowed to bring the usual seaman claims. This is not true, however, if the worker is independently associated with a vessel. On the other hand, if an injury occurs on a floating drilling platform and is determined to be “vessel”, then the inured crewmember may be considered a Jones Act seaman entitled to bring the usual seaman claims against his employer and rig operator.
The OCS Lands Act provides for a question of federal jurisdiction, although state courts have concurrent jurisdiction and, thus, may be filed in state court subject to being removed to federal court. Depending upon the facts of a case, an OCSLA incident may also involve admiralty jurisdiction.
If the situs tests of the OCS Lands Act are satisfied, the next step is to determine whether state law applies as “surrogated” federal law under section 1333(a)(2). The three prong test provides:
- The controversy must arise on a situs covered by OCSLA;
- Federal maritime law must not apply of its own force;
- The State law must not be inconsistent with Federal Law.
The Longshore Act can also apply in two circumstances involving an OCS claim. First, the Longshore Act can apply on its own terms without the aid of the OCS Lands Act if the worker meets the usual status and situs tests of the Longshore Act. Additionally, a worker can qualify for Longshore Act benefits under the OCS Lands Act under section 1333(b) of the OCS Lands Act.
Finally, there are workers on fixed platforms located within state territorial waters. These workers do not qualify under the OCS Lands Act and must either look to state law remedies or in certain circumstances attempt to qualify for benefits under the Longshore Act.
The above demonstrates the complexities involved with representing a worker involved in an offshore rig accident. The above does not even touch upon what additional claims may exist against non-employer third parties.
The attorneys at the law firm of Brais Law Firm have the experience to protect your rights, the compassion to serve your needs, and the skill to obtain the compensation you deserve. To reach our lawyers you may click email the firm, call 800-499-0551 from within the U.S., Skype BraisLaw worldwide or click Contact Us to select and complete a form for a free evaluation of your case.
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