Oil Rig Workers File Suit

By | May 6, 2010

Three workers forced to escape on lifeboats after an explosion aboard an offshore drilling platform claimed in a lawsuit they were kept floating at sea for more than 10 hours while the rig burned uncontrollably.

“After these guys were pulled off the rig, they were kept in lifeboats for over 10 hours and saw the whole thing burn. They knew their friends were still on that rig burning,” said Kurt Arnold, the Houston-based attorney who filed the lawsuit on the men’s behalf. “They couldn’t call anyone at home and say they were OK.”

The lawsuit, filed in county court in Galveston, Texas, seeks unspecified damages on behalf of rig workers Joshua Kritzer, Bill Johnson and Nick Watson, all from Louisiana; and the family of Aaron Dale Burkeen of Mississippi, one of 11 workers missing and presumed dead following the April 20 explosion. Burkeen left a wife and two children.

Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for rig owner Transocean Ltd., defended the company’s response to a disaster some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

“One-hundred and fifteen people got off this rig alive,” he said.

Rig workers or their families have filed at least two other wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits against Transocean, rig operator BP PLC and other companies involved in the offshore drilling operation. One worker who was seriously injured, electronics technician Michael Williams, is seeking $6 million in damages in a lawsuit filed in Louisiana federal court.

The explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon has triggered a major environmental disaster because an uncapped well continues to spew some 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening beaches, fisheries and wildlife. Nearly 50 potential class-action lawsuits have been filed by fishermen, property owners, restaurateurs, resort companies and others claiming the spill is causing or will cause steep economic losses.

According to the Texas case, Burkeen was a crane operator on the rig. He was supposed to be off duty that night, but decided to relieve another operator so that man could get some dinner. That’s when an initial explosion happened.

“He tried to cradle the crane and escape down the stairs,” the lawsuit says, adding that a second blast likely claimed his life. It is not clear exactly what happened the night of the explosion and fire, and officials from Transocean and BP have said the cause remains under investigation.

Rig workers seriously injured in the explosion were taken to hospitals by helicopter, Arnold said. But others were made to wait on the lifeboats despite suffering injuries and severe stress. Some didn’t make it home until 40 hours after the rig blew up and were required by company officials to first give statements at a hotel in Kenner, La., about what they witnessed, he said.

Watson was on the rig’s deck, according to the lawsuit, “when suddenly mud came out of the hole at alarming speeds. The power went out and then the explosions occurred. Watson suffered smoke inhalation and other injuries, such as post-traumatic stress “from watching many of his friends get severely injured and die” in the disaster.

Kritzer, who did cleanup work on the rig, was blown over 30 feet in a hallway and the ceiling collapsed on him, causing him to black out. He suffered a head injury and post-traumatic stress as well, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses BP, Transocean and the other companies of negligence and contends that the Deepwater Horizon was not seaworthy.

“Oil rig workers face some of the most dangerous working conditions in the world,” Arnold said. “That’s why companies like Transocean and BP have rules they must follow to protect every worker.”

BP declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Associated Press writers Garance Burke and David Koenig contributed to this story.

Topics Lawsuits Louisiana Energy Oil Gas

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Latest Comments

  • May 10, 2010 at 10:13 am
    wudchuck says:
    well, some of us have been on the hardworking class. i used to be in the navy onboard a carrier, that is the toughest job in the world! so many operations going on a flight ... read more
  • May 10, 2010 at 10:07 am
    Orlando_Taz says:
    A lot of people "sign on" for dangerous jobs so that they can put food on their table and provide for their families. I doubt that they wanted to take these jobs because they... read more
  • May 10, 2010 at 7:05 am
    wudchuck says:
    first of all, i think this brought about the understanding of how truly dangerous this job is. you signed onto this job, and you knew the risk but probably did not comprehend ... read more

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