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McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 10, 2017

VIRGIE ANN ROMERO MCBRIDE, Plaintiff-Appellee Cross-Appellant
v.
ESTIS WELL SERVICE, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellant Cross-Appellee SAUL C. TOUCHET, Plaintiff - Appellee Cross-Appellant
v.
ESTIS WELL SERVICE, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellant Cross-Appellee

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

          Before SMITH and HAYNES, Circuit Judges, and JUNELL, District Judge. [*]

          HAYNES, Circuit Judge.

         This consolidated Jones Act and general maritime law case arises out of an accident on a barge in the navigable waterways of Louisiana. The owner of the barge, Defendant Estis Well Services, L.L.C., appeals from the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs Virgie Ann Romero McBride, individually and on behalf of the minor child I.M.S., and Saul C. Touchet.[1] For the reasons explained below, we AFFIRM.

         I. Background

         This is the second time this case has come before our court. The first appeal was interlocutory, and we held in an en banc opinion that McBride[2] and Touchet could not recover punitive damages on their Jones Act and general maritime law claims. See McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C., 768 F.3d 382 (5th Cir. 2014) (en banc). The accident in this case and the subsequent claims filed against Estis were previously described in the en banc opinion as follows:

These consolidated cases arise out of an accident aboard Estis Rig 23, a barge supporting a truck-mounted drilling rig operating in Bayou Sorrell, a navigable waterway in the State of Louisiana. The truck right toppled over, and one crew member, Skye Sonnier, was fatally pinned between the derrick and mud tank, and three others, Saul Touchet, Brian Suire, and Joshua Bourque, have alleged injuries. At the time of the incident, Estis Well Service, L.L.C. ("Estis") owned and operated Rig 23, and employed Sonnier, Touchet, Suire, and Bourque (collectively, the "crew members").
Haleigh McBride, individually, on behalf of Sonnier's minor child, and as administratrix of Sonnier's estate, filed suit against Estis, stating causes of action for unseaworthiness under general maritime law and negligence under the Jones Act and seeking compensatory as well as punitive damages under both claims. The other crew members filed separate actions against Estis alleging the same causes of action and also requesting compensatory and punitive damages. Upon the crew members' motion, the cases were consolidated into a single action.

Id. at 384 (footnote omitted).

         After we affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing the punitive damages claims, the case went back to the district court, culminating in a week-long bench trial. Prior to trial, Estis conceded liability under both the Jones Act and general maritime law claims, but continued to dispute damages and the right to maintenance and cure. The district court made findings of fact and conclusions of law on the record, and it awarded damages to McBride and both damages and cure to Touchet. On McBride's claims, the district court ordered Estis to pay damages for, among other things, loss of past support, loss of future support, and survival damages for pre-death fear and conscious pain and suffering. On Touchet's claims, the district court ordered Estis to pay damages for, among other things, future lost earnings / loss of earning capacity and future medical expenses, and to additionally pay cure until Touchet reaches maximum medical improvement. Estis appeals the district court's judgment on these specific awards.

         II. Standard of Review

         When reviewing a judgment from a bench trial, this court reviews the findings of facts for clear error and the legal issues de novo. Lehmann v. GE Glob. Ins. Holding Corp., 524 F.3d 621, 624 (5th Cir. 2008). "Under the clearly erroneous standard, we will reverse only if we have a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Canal Barge Co. v. Torco Oil Co., 220 F.3d 370, 375 (5th Cir. 2000). "If the district court made a legal error that affected its factual findings, 'remand is the proper course unless the record permits only one resolution of the factual issue.'" Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584, 596 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273, 292 (1982)).

         III. Discussion

         A. ...


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