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Seaman claimed injury due to personnel shortage on vessel

Amount:

$350,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Texas

Venue:

Harris County

Court:

Harris County District Court, 269th

Injury Type(s):

leg; ankle; other-thigh; other-peroneal tendon, tear;
foot/heel-foot; foot/heel-heel

Case Type:

Admiralty/Maritime – Jones Act; Worker/Workplace Negligence; Admiralty/Maritime – Unseaworthiness

Case Name:

Nathan Deaver v. Noble Drilling (US) LLC and Noble Offshore Corp.,
No. 2015-68183

Date:

June 15, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Nathan Deaver (Male, 32 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Patrick M. Dennis;
Doyle LLP;
Houston,
TX,
for
Nathan Deaver ■ Michael Patrick Doyle;
Doyle LLP;
Houston,
TX,
for
Nathan Deaver ■ Jeffrey Avery;
Doyle LLP;
Houston,
TX,
for
Nathan Deaver

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Ken McCoin; Ph.D.; Economics; Houston,
TX called by:
Patrick M. Dennis, Michael Patrick Doyle, Jeffrey Avery ■ Jack Madeley; P.E.; Safety; College Station,
TX called by:
Patrick M. Dennis, Michael Patrick Doyle, Jeffrey Avery ■ John Odam; J.D.; Attorney Fees; Houston,
TX called by:
Patrick M. Dennis, Michael Patrick Doyle, Jeffrey Avery ■ William Granberry; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Houston,
TX called by:
Patrick M. Dennis, Michael Patrick Doyle, Jeffrey Avery

Defendant(s):

Noble Offshore Corp., 

Noble Drilling (US) LLC

Defense Attorney(s):

Jeffrey R. Bale;
The Bale Law Firm;
Sugar Land,
TX,
for
Noble Offshore Corp., Noble Drilling (US) LLC ■ Ross Bale;
The Bale Law Firm;
Sugar Land,
TX,
for
Noble Offshore Corp., Noble Drilling (US) LLC

Defendant Expert(s):

Alan Ettinger;
Podiatry;
Fort Worth,
TX called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale ■ Chet Engstrom;
Surveillance;
Lewisville,
TX called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale ■ Donna Johnson;
Vocational Rehabilitation;
Corpus Christi,
TX called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale ■ Jimmy Mouton;
Drilling;
Egan,
LA called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale ■ George Glass;
Psychiatry;
Houston,
TX called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale ■ Travis Hanson;
Orthopedics;
Houston,
TX called by:
Jeffrey R. Bale, Ross Bale

Facts:

On Dec. 14, 2014, plaintiff Nathan Deaver, 32, a floor hand/shaker hand on a drill ship in the Gulf of Mexico, felt severe pain in his heel, radiating into his shin and throughout his upper leg. Deaver, a seaman as defined under the Jones Act, was working aboard a vessel that was owned and operated by employers Noble Drilling (US) LLC and Noble Offshore Corp. Deaver reported the injury and was transported to shore. He went to a podiatrist twice, with the employer paying maintenance and cure, and was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. Deaver stopped treating, and the employer stopped paying maintenance and cure, pending further treatment. Deaver sued Noble Drilling and Noble Offshore under the Jones Act and general maritime law, alleging that the vessel was unseaworthy and that the defendants unreasonably, willfully and wantonly failed to pay maintenance and cure beyond the two podiatrist visits. At trial, Deaver pursued claims against Noble Drilling only. After filing suit, Deaver went to an orthopedic surgeon, who wrote a report diagnosing him with a torn peroneal tendon and recommending tendon repair surgery. In the doctor’s opinion, the injury was a tendon tear all along, not plantar fasciitis. The unseaworthiness claim was that Noble Drilling failed to provide enough personnel for the safe and efficient performance of tasks. For five consecutive 12-hour days, Deaver had been performing mostly unassisted work in the vessel’s shaker room, continuously going up and down multiple flights of stairs, and that these conditions were the cause of his injury, he alleged. The plaintiff’s safety expert opined that Deaver was being overworked. The defendants denied the allegations and contended that Deaver was contributorily negligent by not asking for assistance in his work and in abandoning treatment for 18 months —the time between the last podiatrist visit and the visit to the orthopedic surgeon — after the defense stopped paying maintenance and cure. The defense also noted that Deaver never claimed unsafe conditions before he filed the lawsuit, or that such conditions caused his injury. When he reported the injury to the ship’s medic and its safety assistant on Dec. 14, he told them he could not identify what caused his injury, the defense noted. Deaver’s supervisor testified that Deaver would have received assistance if requested. He also testified that the vessel was brand new, was operated properly and had a full and capable crew. Regarding maintenance and cure, the defense noted that Deaver was released to full duty more than a year before seeing the orthopedic surgeon, who acknowledged that a full-duty release indicates maximum medical improvement (the point at which the duty to pay maintenance and cure ends). When Noble terminated maintenance and cure, it notified Deaver in writing that it would consider resuming payments if he started treating again and forwarded the records and bills, which he did not do until after filing suit, defense counsel argued.

Injury:

The orthopedic surgeon who saw Deaver opined that he sustained a torn peroneal tendon and would need tendon repair surgery. On the unseaworthiness claim, he sought $25,000 for future medical bills; $170,000 for past lost earning capacity; $1.2 million for future lost earning capacity; and unspecified damages for past and future physical pain, past and future mental anguish, past and future physical impairment and past and future disfigurement. He also sought unpaid maintenance and cure; compensatory damages, including any resulting aggravation of his condition; punitive damages; and attorney fees. The defense orthopedic surgery and podiatry experts opined that the injury was plantar fasciitis only and that Deaver abandoned his care. The defense also introduced surveillance video, which it claimed showed Deaver was not impaired. The defense noted that Deaver’s attorneys referred him to the orthopedic surgeon, and that the doctor and one of the plaintiff’s attorneys knew each other socially.

Result:

The jury rendered a plaintiff’s verdict, finding the vessel unseaworthy and Noble 90-percent responsible and Deaver 10-percent responsible. It also found unreasonable and willful or wanton failure to pay maintenance and cure. It awarded Deaver $350,000. The amounts found under negligence/unseaworthiness (past pain, past anguish, past lost earnings, future medical expenses) totaled $95,000. Comparative fault reduced this amount to $85,500, resulting in a net jury award of $340,500.

Nathan Deaver: $25,000 Personal Injury: future medical cost; $10,000 Personal Injury: past physical pain; $30,000 Personal Injury: unpaid cure; $10,000 Personal Injury: past mental anguish; $125,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages for unreasonable failure to pay maintenance and cure; $50,000 Personal Injury: past lost earning capacity; $100,000 Personal Injury: attorney fees through trial to pursue maintenance and cure claim

Actual Award:

$340,500

Trial Information:

Judge:

Dan Hinde

Demand:

$100,000

Offer:

$50,000

Trial Length:

3
 days

Trial Deliberations:

4.5
 hours

Jury Vote:

12-0

Jury Composition:

2 male/ 10 female

Post Trial:

Deaver filed a motion for judgment seeking $340,500, plus prejudgment interest and taxable costs. The defense will likely file a motion to disregard the findings for failure to pay maintenance and cure and may file other post-trial motions, as well.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel.