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Richardson v. Seacor Liftboats, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2015



SUSIE MORGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Anthony Richardson, Jr. ("Richardson"), asserts ordinary negligence claims pursuant to the general maritime law against Defendant, SEACOR Liftboats LLC ("SEACOR"), the operator of the SEACOR INTERVENTION ("INTERVENTION"). Richardson alleges he sustained personal injury during a crane personnel basket transfer from the SEACOR INTERVENTION to the M/V CHASE. The questions presented at the trial were whether SEACOR was negligent and, if so, whether this negligence was the legal cause of Richardson's injuries.

This matter was tried before the Court, sitting without a jury, over three days.[1] The Court heard testimony from Jed Johnson, Carlos Herbert, Jack Madeley, Anthony Richardson, Jr., Dr. Paul Fenn, Dr. Angel Roman, Dr. Kenneth McCoin, Ryan Ross, Dr. Gordon Nutik, Dr. Kenneth Boudreaux, Dr. Larry Stokes, K.C. Guidry, and Robert Watson and admitted into evidence the deposition of Captain James Dean.[2] Having considered the testimony and evidence at trial, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, the Court now issues the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). To the extent any finding of fact may be construed as a conclusion of law, the Court adopts it as such. To the extent any conclusion of law may be construed as a finding of fact, the Court adopts it as such. FINDINGS OF FACT

On April 21, 2013, Richardson was employed by Greene's Energy Group as an offshore technician working aboard the INTERVENTION, a liftboat operated and manned by SEACOR. After a morning safety meeting on April 21, 2013, Richardson and two other workers, Carlos Herbert and Randy Rodriguez, were scheduled to return to shore. To get them from the INTERVENTION to the waiting crew boat, the M/V CHASE, a hydraulic crane was used to conduct a Billy Pugh personnel basket transfer. Richardson had completed personnel basket transfers numerous times before April 21, 2013. He had been adequately trained on how to safely ride personnel baskets.

The crane on the INTERVENTION, used to lift the basket from the INTERVENTION to the M/V CHASE, was operated by Jed Johnson ("Johnson"), a SEACOR employee. Johnson was an experienced, certified crane operator who was qualified and capable of performing personnel basket transfers.[3] The sea and weather conditions at the time of the incident were appropriate for performing personnel basket transfers, even though there were three-foot to four-foot choppy seas and rolling waves known as swells. There were no mechanical issues with the crane, and the hydraulic crane was mechanically incapable of lowering the personnel basket in a free-fall.

These basic facts found by the Court above are not in dispute, but there are two divergent versions of how events unfolded during the actual transfer: Richardson's version-supported by his testimony and that of his co-worker Carlos Herbert ("Herbert")-and Johnson's version-supported by his testimony and that of Ryan Ross ("Ross"), K.C. Guidry ("Guidry"), and Captain James Dean ("Captain Dean").

The Incident

Richardson testified at trial the basket transfer started off normally, but that once the basket cleared the INTERVENTION deck and was over the water, Johnson lowered the basket at an unsafe speed and then brought it to an abrupt stop. Richardson testified that, after a few seconds, or maybe even a minute, the basket felt like it went into an eight-foot to ten-foot free-fall. Richardson testified he had one foot on the basket and one foot slightly off the basket in a bracing position, as he was trained. He testified the basket slammed onto the deck of the M/V CHASE, and he never stepped or jumped off the basket before it landed. Richardson further testified that, when he tried to exit the basket after it slammed onto the deck, Johnson jerked the basket back into the air before Richardson had fully disembarked, causing Richardson's foot to become tangled in the netting of the personnel basket and his leg to be raised about chest high. Richardson testified a deckhand helped keep him from falling to the deck after he extricated himself from the basket. Richardson testified at trial his hip and back had been injured during the incident but also testified that he did not feel any back pain the day the incident occurred and was able to carry his bags weighing approximately 30 pounds from the crew boat.

Richardson testified that immediately after the personnel basket transfer he reported the incident to the captain of the M/V Chase, Captain Dean, and that Captain Dean told him he saw the three workers jump off the basket. Richardson testified he immediately told Captain Dean this was not true. Less than 30 minutes after the incident occurred, Richardson filled out an incident report apparently provided to him by Captain Dean.[4] Under the section of the report labeled "detailed description of incident, " Richardson wrote: "Personnel basket was operated wrecklessly [sic]. Personnel was lowered on basket, when personnel was exiting basket[, ] basket lifted while one leg was still on basket. Medical attention not necessary at the present time of incident." Richardson did not make any specific mention in the report of the basket being lowered extremely quickly, dropping eight to ten feet in a free-fall, or slamming onto the deck of the M/V CHASE. In the section labeled "nature of injury, " Richardson reported there was injury to his "leg."

Later that same day, Richardson filled out a handwritten statement for his employer, Greene's Energy Group.[5] In the statement, Richardson wrote:

[The three workers] were being lowered on to the boat via personnel basket, when the crane operator let the personnel basket down extremely fast. The basket hit the boat deck, while [Richardson] was in a bracing position, in fear that the basket would strike the deck abruptly, with one leg bent on the basket, and the other leg slightly off to absorb the impact. [T]he crane operator jolted the basket and crane upward as if trying to jar [Richardson] from the basket, because of the basket striking the deck, [Richardson's] foot got caught in the nets. When [the crane operator] picked up on the basket with the crane he pulled [Richardson's] leg upward hyperextending it towards [Richardson's] face. Once [the crane operator] saw [Richardson] in an awkward position he quickly drop [sic] the basket causing [Richardson] to trip backward, the boat hand caught [Richardson] and [Richardson's] hard hat flew off."

Richardson also mentions in this statement that Captain Dean "accused [Richardson] of lying about the incident saying the [three workers] jumped off [the basket] before it hit the deck, when clearly there is no way that happened if [Richardson's] leg was caught on the basket...."

Richardson admitted at trial that he was trained not to step off the basket before it safely lands on the deck of an awaiting vessel, though he stated he was trained to have one foot off the basket preparing to step off the basket once it lands. Although Richardson wrote in his Greene's statement and testified at trial that he had one foot slightly off the basket in a bracing position before it landed, Richardson testified at his deposition that he had two feet on the ring when the personnel basket hit the deck of the crew boat. The inconsistency in Richardson's testimony on this major point of contention and other inconsistencies undermine Richardson's credibility.[6]

Another Greene's Energy Group employee riding the personnel basket, Carlos Herbert, testified at trial and gave a very similar version of events to that given by Richardson. During the basket transfer, Herbert testified the crane operator started dropping them rapidly. When the basket hit the deck of the M/V CHASE, Herbert testified he quickly got off the basket, but Richardson was unable to get off as quickly. ...

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