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Rinehart v. National Oilwell Varco L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 16, 2017

DONALD RINEHART, JR.
v.
NATIONAL OILWELL VARCO L.P., ET AL.

         SECTION: L

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Starfleet Marine Transportation, Inc. (R. Doc. 79). Plaintiff opposes the Motion, and, upon leave of the Court, Defendant filed a reply. (R. Docs. 95, 100). Having considered the parties' briefs and applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff Donald Rinehart (“Rinehart”) on August 21, 2014, while he was employed as a Jones Act seaman in his capacity as an engineer aboard the M/V Starfleet Viking (the “Vessel”), a vessel operated by the bareboat charterer Defendant Starfleet Marine Transportation, Inc. (“Starfleet”). (R. Doc. 1 at 1-2). Plaintiff invokes jurisdiction of this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was ordered by the Vessel's captain to assist with loading pallets aboard the ship, which was docked in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Id. at 2. Defendant National Oilwell Varco, L.P. (“NOV”) owned the mobile crane and hook used in loading the pallets and employed the crane operator. Id. Plaintiff claims he was injured when a pallet fork slipped from the crane's hook onto the back of his head while loading pallets onto the Vessel's deck. Id. Plaintiff was flown by helicopter to the Thibodaux Medical Center for emergency medical treatment and has since undergone multiple complex surgical procedures with permanent scarring; severe headaches with substantial neurological deficits, including memory loss and a severely-diminished reading ability; and the inability to swallow normal food, so that he must eat through a feeding tube surgically-implanted into his stomach. Id. at 3. Plaintiff filed suit under the Jones Act and General Maritime law requesting a jury trial and seeking recovery for the damages he sustained.

         Starfleet answers, admitting that it owned the Vessel, and asserts a number of defenses, including that Plaintiff's injuries were caused by his own negligence or by third parties, that his claims are prescribed, and that Starfleet is entitled to limited liability pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq. (R. Doc. 13). NOV answers and asserts a number of defenses, including that Plaintiff's injuries were caused by his own negligence or by third parties, that Plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages, and that his claims are barred by prescription or by either the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq., or the provisions of the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act, LSA R.S. 23:1021, et seq. (R. Doc. 15).

         II. PRESENT MOTION

         Defendant Starfleet filed this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claims for maintenance and cure. (R. Doc. 79). Starfleet maintains that Plaintiff had pre-existing back injuries that he concealed from Starfleet, and therefore is not entitled to maintenance and cure. (R. Doc. 79-1 at 2). Plaintiff opposes the Motion. (R. Doc. 95). The Court previously denied Starfleet's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claims for maintenance and cure because Plaintiff had not specifically claimed maintenance and cure in his Complaint. (R. Doc. 73). Starfleet then asserted a Counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that they do not owe maintenance and cure, and Plaintiff responded with their own Counterclaim, asserting a claim for maintenance and cure. (R. Docs. 76, 77). Starfleet now maintains that the question of maintenance and cure is properly before the Court. (R. Doc. 79-1 at 1).

         i. Starfleet's Motion

         Starfleet seeks partial summary judgment arguing that because Plaintiff failed to disclose a preexisting condition, Starfleet does not have to pay maintenance and cure. (R. Doc. 79-1 at 1). Plaintiff claims that the 2014 accident caused him a variety of injuries, which Starfleet paid to treat. Plaintiff underwent two cervical fusions in June 2016, and was deemed to have reached maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) at that time. Id. at 3. In August 2016, Plaintiff underwent a two-level lumbar laminectomy and fusion at ¶ 4-S1 to treat posttraumatic lumbar spine pain, exacerbation of lumbar herniated disk, and lumbar radiculopathy, which Starfleet paid for under its maintenance and cure obligation. Id. Starfleet maintains that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with “virtually the exact same diagnosis” in 2007 and had failed to get appropriate surgery at that time. Id. at 4. Plaintiff allegedly continued to experience lower back pain from 2005 to 2013. Id. at 9-11. On May 31, 2014, Plaintiff completed a medical questionnaire that asked if he had ever had an injury to his back or if surgery had been recommended by a medical professional; he denied both. Id. at 12. Additionally, Plaintiff completed a medical questionnaire on May 28, 2014, denying that he had injured his back or neck or experienced back or neck pain. Id. at 13. Starfleet avers that the medical questionnaires were crafted to ensure that Plaintiff could perform his job, and had they known of Plaintiff's history of back conditions and treatments, they would not have hired him. Id. at 14.

         Starfleet has paid Plaintiff's maintenance and cure since the accident in 2014, including $30, 320 in maintenance payments and $393, 350 in medical payments. Id. at 3 n.3. Because Plaintiff concealed his medical condition, Starfleet avers they are entitled to a credit and/or reimbursement for all payments made related to his lumbar injury. Id. at 15. Under McCorpen v. Central Gulf Steamship Corporation, an employer is relieved from its duty to pay maintenance and cure if they can prove: (1) Plaintiff knowingly concealed or intentionally misrepresents a medical condition; (2) the medical condition was material to the employer's decision to hire the Plaintiff; (3) there is a causal link between the pre-existing condition and the injury at issue. 396 F.2d 547, 548-49 (5th Cir. 1968). Starfleet avers that because Plaintiff reached MMI for his cervical spine injury on June 6, 2016, any further maintenance payments were solely for Plaintiff's preexisting lumbar injury. (R. Doc. 79-1 at 15). Accordingly, Starfleet seeks reimbursement and/or credit for the payments made after June 6, 2016. Id. Further, Starfleet seeks a reimbursement or credit for its cure payments related to Plaintiff's lumbar injury in an amount to be determined at trial. Id. at 15-16.

         ii. Plaintiff's Opposition

         Plaintiff opposes the Motion, arguing that Starfleet's McCorpen theory should be sent to the jury because the record supports genuine issues of material fact on that theory. (R. Doc. 95-1 at 1). Further, Plaintiff contends maintenance and cure should not be terminated as he has yet to reach MMI.

         Plaintiff contends that the medical questionnaires he filled out and signed both times he was hired by Starfleet - in 2010 and ...


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