If you have been injured while working on an oil rig, there are unique things about your situation that you need to know. In general, you will be facing a well-organized, large corporation that will defend your claim from the minute you get hurt. Your company will likely have resources and opportunities to hurt your claim that smaller boat companies may not have. You also need to know about the special ways to get what you need and deserve if you do end up in court.
As a maritime and Jones Act lawyer practicing for almost 20 years, I’ve handled dozens and dozens of serious injury cases under the Jones Act which have occurred due to dangerous conditions on an oil rig drilling floor offshore. Below are some of the most common situations which we deal with on a regular basis which cause serious injury to our maritime clients.
Why Drilling Rig Floors Can Cause Injuries
One of the most simple, yet common, ways that individuals are injured on drilling rig floors is due to slippery oil-based drilling mud accumulating on the rig floor. Even non oil based drilling mud can become slippery when it is on a hard metal rig floor. Past clients have injured their knees, backs and other parts of their bodies when they have slipped on drilling mud that was negligently allowed to accumulate on a drilling rig floor. It has been our experience that safety practices should be in place on the rig floor to continuously clean the rig floor and make sure that no slippery substances are allowed to accumulate on the rig floor. We have successfully handled many claims by proving that the company failed to provide a slip-free rig floor to our clients. While this may seem nearly impossible during the oil drilling process offshore, safety precautions such as coco mats, non skid paint and designated walkways can all help eliminate slip hazards on an oil rig drilling floor.
Another major cause of injuries on oil rig drilling floors is due to the handling of the drilling slips. Our office has handled many cases involving serious lower back injuries caused when too few individuals were required to pull the drilling slips. Injuries with drilling slips also occur when the driller improperly operates the drill pipe or the rig is tilted or “listed” which causes the slips to hang up or get caught while the employees are pulling these slips. These types of conditions can easily cause serious back injuries.
A final way that maritime employees are often injured working on an offshore oil rig relates to work being performed in the derrick. The derrick hand is typically required to pull pipe in or out of the fingers on the drilling rig. If these fingers are bent or otherwise improperly maintained, this can cause the derrick hand to struggle with the pipes. Also, the speed at which the pipe is being racked in or out of the fingers can often cause stress on the derrick hand.
The above situations are mere examples of how serious injuries can occur on a drilling rig floor. The driller and assistant driller are responsible to supervise the drilling floor. Many modern day drilling rigs have cameras in use on the drilling floor which can greatly assist in trying to prove the cause of an accident. Also, most modern drilling companies are required to keep detailed safety records and reports.
The Key Differences of Big Drilling Companies
The major drilling companies such as Diamond, Transocean, Rowan, Hercules and others are all enormous corporations. These large corporations think very differently than a small company. These companies will either hire a sophisticated and ruthless third party claims company like Shuman Consulting (Transocean) or have their own very experienced ‘claims’ department (Diamond, Rowan and others).
What does it tell you when your company has an entire department called ‘claims’? It is the job of Shuman or your company’s claims department, first and foremost, to minimize the amount of money you may be entitled to. It’s that simple. They will preach to you that their job is to help you with your medical treatment, and ‘help you get back to work’, but in reality they will try to choose your medical treatment for you, and while they do want to get you back to work, its only so that you will not have any type of wage loss claim after you suffer a serious injury. Read here to learn why your company may rush you back to work.
The Guilt of “Going Against Your Family”
Another challenge you’ll face after your injury is that your drilling company will make you feel guilty. They do this by building a family culture and giving out lots of gifts and hats and shirts and ‘knick knacks’. There is a real culture on your rig that if you fill out an accident report or, even worse, file a claim, that you are going against your ‘family’ of fellow rig workers. Your company completely understands this pressure on you and they will usually play to it by saying things like ‘we will take care of you’ and ‘you are valuable to us’. Your company may even say to you directly that you guys are all a family out there. You have to understand that a family is people who truly care about you and your future, not a large business corporation.
I have heard it best said, that an oil rig, or any well-run business (and that is where you worked, at a business, nothing more) is more like a professional sports team, not a family. Each person plays an important role and is expected to perform for the team. As long as you can perform and produce, the team loves you and pays you well. But if you get hurt, then you are traded or cut. Getting your head around this is honestly one of the hardest things about your situation. I can’t tell you how many good, hardworking rig workers we have meet with who waited and waited to hire an attorney and by the time we got involved, serious damage was done to their case as they keep trying to keep their company happy, not realizing they were ruining their claim.
Shared Responsibility Means You’re More Protected
You do have some advantages that can help you get what you deserve in your claim. First, you have a much larger hierarchy on your rig than there is on a small vessel or tug. You typically have several people working above you and also people working below you. This means you can count on those people to do their job and often your accident may have been caused by one of those above or below you not doing what they should have done. This sometimes makes it harder for your company to blame you for your accident, which they absolutely will try to do.
Written Policies & Procedures Can Be Used to Defend Your Case
Next, drilling companies typically have enormous safety manuals which spell out how each job should be done. This doesn’t mean that you read the manual regularly, but these manuals and documents often help in winning your case. The same applies with the job descriptions that exist for all the various positions. Have you ever read the written job descriptions for your OIM, Toolpusher or Driller? These guys are required to really supervise things and actively monitor the rig and all its equipment. And the JSA records also often help your case. I know that these are often not done, or worse can be forged, but having these documents can often provide evidence to win your claim.
“Business As Usual” Doesn’t Mean it Was Done Correctly or Safely
One final thing you should be aware of after you have an injury on an oil rig. I can’t tell you how many times a potential client has said that he didn’t think anything was done wrong to cause his accident, and it was just ‘one of those things’. They often say ‘that’s the way we always do the job on our rig.’ Well, once we get involved, we often learn that simply because your rig did the job a certain way does not at all mean it was being done safely or the best way it could have been done. We routinely hire drilling experts, crane operation experts, naval architects and others to review our cases and let us know if something should have been done differently in your situation. You may be surprised to learn that federal juries in offshore injury cases just like yours are actually told
“You must determine if the operation in question was reasonably safe under the circumstances. The fact that a certain practice has been continued for a long period of time does not necessarily mean that it is reasonably safe under all circumstances. A long accepted practice may be an unsafe practice.”
What this means is that it doesn’t matter how you all ‘normally’ or ‘usually’ did the job on the rig—what matters to the jury is how it should have been done in the safest available way.
What you are going through is very difficult. We have resources at our free download page which will give you guidance and support. You can read about how guys just like you ended up doing fine after their injuries. It always helps to see how other people came out of your same situation and things got better for them. I guarantee you that if you download and read through our materials you will be more educated about your options and you will feel better about your future.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]