United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
JOSEPH C. THIBODEAUX
ENSCO OFFSHORE CO.
WHITEHURST, MAG. JUDGE.
matter involves claims brought by the plaintiff, Joseph C.
Thibodeaux ("Thibodeaux"), against the defendant,
Ensco Offshore Company ("Ensco"), under the Jones
Act and General Maritime Law of the United States. Thibodeaux
seeks damages for injuries he sustained on October 1, 2011,
while serving as a deck foreman aboard the Mobile Offshore
Drilling Unit Ensco Rig 90 ("Ensco
90"). Thibodeaux asserts negligence and
unseaworthiness claims under the Jones Act and a claim for
maintenance and cure under general maritime law and
designates his claims as admiralty or maritime claims
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h).
Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333.
October 1, 2013, Thibodeaux filed a complaint against Ensco
seeking damages for injuries he sustained while aboard the
Ensco 90. Thibodeaux alleged he was injured as a result of
Ensco's negligence and/or the unseaworthiness of the
Ensco 90. On May 18, 2015, Thibodeaux amended his complaint
to add a claim for maintenance and cure.
non-jury trial of this case commenced before the undersigned
on September 12, 2016. The matter was taken under advisement
on September 14, 2016. The parties were ordered to file
post-trial briefs which they submitted timely.
due consideration of the facts and evidence presented by the
parties at the trial of this matter through live witnesses,
exhibits, and depositions testimony, and having had the
opportunity to assess the demeanor of the live witnesses and
review and weigh the evidence, the Court hereby makes the
following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to
Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which the
Court finds and holds were established by a preponderance of
the evidence, and rules as follows.
STIPULATIONS AND ADMISSIONS
parties stipulated to the following prior to trial:
1) Ensco Offshore Company was the owner pro hac vice
and operator of the Ensco Rig 90 at all times pertinent to
this litigation. As such, Ensco Offshore Company is
responsible for any claim of negligence and/or
unseaworthiness of the Ensco 90 in this litigation. Ensco
Offshore Company will be responsible for any Judgment
rendered in this matter.
2) Joseph Thibodeaux was a Jones Act seaman.
3) Joseph Thibodeaux was employed by Ensco Offshore Company
as a deck foreman aboard the Ensco Rig 90, a vessel in
navigation, at the pertinent time.
4) The authenticity of every document produced by Ensco
Offshore Company during the pendency of this claim and
FINDINGS OF FACTS
October 1, 2011, crew members aboard the Ensco
worked to prepare the rig for its move to another location.
Thibodeaux was a deck foreman with the crane crew which also
included three roustabouts, David Biggs, Aaron Allen, Bob
Degner, and a crane operator by the name of Jay Puckett. The
crane crew's task was lifting and storing four to five
take-on hoses attached to a manifold on the port aft side of
the rig. Each hose was 3 to 5 inches in diameter, weighed
approximately 300 pounds, and spanned 100 to 150 feet in
length. This same crane crew performed this very task
together on several prior occasions, but this was the first
time they conducted it on this hitch.
crane crew met for a verbal, pre-job safety meeting and
discussed the task at hand as well as the role each man
played. The roustabouts rigged each hose, one at a time, to
the crane line; Thibodeaux used standard hand signals to flag
Puckett so he would know how and where to lift and maneuver
each hose to the brackets that hung on the outside of the
port aft handrail until the brackets reached capacity. Any
remaining hose was laid on deck, as close to the handrail as
possible so the roustabouts could tie the hose to the
handrail and maintain a path on the walkway.
crane crew neared completion of this task when the load swung
left toward the port aft leg jack house. As it did so, the
load came into contact with the port side navigational light
assembly that hung on the jack house. Within
seconds of the load's hitting the light assembly, angle
irons holding the assembly fell, followed by the light
assembly itself. The safety cable attached to the
navigational light failed to hold the entire light assembly.
In falling, it struck Thibodeaux on his left hip and left
sustained a significant hematoma, known as a Morel-Lavallee
lesion, to his hip. Though he then denied being hurt, the
injury site continued to swell over the evening, so he was
returned to shore for examination. Pre-employment and
post-injury MRIs revealed no change to Thibodeaux's back,
but he complained of pain in his neck, left hip, knee and
back. Within days of the accident, Thibodeaux reported his
neck and knee pain had resolved and his treating physician,
Dr. Franklin, noted the bruising to his hip was resolving.
Other than degenerative changes, Thibodeaux's back
remained unchanged for more than a year post-accident. Even
when an MRI revealed that a disc bulge had herniated and a
Lafayette, Louisiana orthopedist, Dr. Blanda, recommended
surgery, the surgical recommendation was based on
Thibodeaux's subjective complaints of pain rather than
objective physical symptoms.
Thibodeaux did extremely well; however, within months he
began again to complain of significant pain. The court notes
the timing of those complaints of pain correlated with the
realization that he would no longer receive narcotic
medication, upon which, according to his girlfriend, Fabian
Hardy, he had become reliant. [As we will explain later, the
court finds Thibodeaux's testimony as a whole to be
self-serving and unsupported by record evidence.]
the accident, Thibodeaux admits he had no idea how the light
assembly fell or what happened when it did. In fact, there
was only one eye witness with the details needed to explain
how the accident occurred, the roustabout,
testified that he maintained a good view of the load the
entire time it was in motion. He saw the load barely hit the
light assembly, the support irons begin to fall, followed by
the light assembly. He recalled seeing Thibodeaux looking at
the hoses inside the handrail with Thibodeaux's back to
him, but he did not recall seeing Thibodeaux signal to
Puckett in advance of the falling assembly. Although
Thibodeaux claimed he never lost eye contact with the load
and/or Puckett and was always facing the bow, Biggs'
testimony explains why that would be the case. It further
explains how the light assembly hit Thibodeaux on his left
hip and knee as the jackhouse and light would have been on
his left as he faced the stern of the boat. Thus, the court
finds Thibodeaux was distracted by the hose that was falling
into the walkway. According to the credible evidence here, he
turned his back to the load and crane operator without
calling a stop order and without giving any further signal
after an initial slack off sign. Accordingly, Thibodeaux was
unable to see the load swing into the light assembly and was
unaware that it was falling.
medical evidence establishes Thibodeaux sustained an abrasion
on his left knee and severe bruising to his hip during the
October 1, 2011, accident. An MRI conducted October 15, 2011,
revealed the Morel-Lavallee lesion over his left lateral
pelvis and hip. However, there was no change at L4-5, where
he had a pre-existing, pre-employment, asymptomatic
degenerative lumbar spine condition.
Thibodeaux's knee injury and the bruising to his hip
resolved within weeks of the accident, his back and hip pain
continued. Accordingly, in May 2012, Dr. Louis Blanda,
Thibodeaux's treating orthopedist, ordered another MRI.
That MRI revealed the disc at L4-5 that previously appeared
to be bulging was now herniated. The herniation was confirmed
again by an MRI conducted in January 2013. Based this
objective evidence and Thibodeaux's continued complaints
of pain, Dr. Blanda recommended a decompression and fusion at
Ensco's request, Thibodeaux underwent an examination by
an independent medical examiner, Dr. Neil Romero, who
specialized in orthopedic spine surgery. In a report dated
May 17, 2013, noted Thibodeaux denied any injuries to his
back since the October 1, 2011 accident. Dr. Romero opined
the worsening of the pre-existing condition of
Thibodeaux's spine at L4-5 was a result of the accident.
While Dr. Romero believed that Thibodeaux should undergo an
epidural injection in an attempt to avoid surgery, he agreed
with Dr. Blanda's recommendation for a decompression and
fusion if the pain continued. However, Dr. Romero noted the
surgery would not address the hip pain as that pain was
consistent with the shearing injury to his hip and the
Morel-Lavallee lesion he developed.
conservative treatments prescribed by both Dr. Blanda and Dr.
Romero failed to provide lasting relief for Thibodeaux's
pain. Accordingly, he underwent the decompression and fusion
on July 29, 2015. However, Dr. Blanda did not perform an
aspiration of the Morel-Lavallee lesion as he concurred with
Dr. Romero that it appeared the fluid collection had resolved
and nothing more could be done.
on the evidence presented, the court finds Thibodeaux reached
maximum medical improvement as to his knee and bruising of
his hip by October 18, 2011, the Morel-Lavallee lesion by May
17, 2013, and his back by September 13, 2016.
the court finds Thibodeaux sustained significant injuries to
his hip and back as a result of the accident, we do not find
his complaints of pain and the extent of his disability to be
genuine. He claimed his pain was constant and unrelenting
over the course of five years and he was homebound and unable
to work. Yet, he admitted to driving and/or riding in a car
for long distances and he continued to visit casinos for fun.
Fabian Hardy, who helped care for Thibodeaux, testified he
received great results from a first facet injection, good
results from the second, and did "extremely well"
post-surgery, but Thibodeaux claimed he received little if
any relief from the injections and reported a pain level of
7/10 after surgery and about the time Dr. Blanda was going to
release him from his care.
complaints of pain to various physicians during similar time
frames also support the court's finding. Though he told
Dr. Franklin his neck and knee pain resolved, he reported to
Dr. Blanda within the month and stated he experienced pain in
those areas, at a level of 8 out of 10. He complained to Dr.
Romero that his hip pain was more severe than his back pain,
but complained of terrible back pain to Dr. Blanda. He also
reported to Dr. Romero and his treating psychologist Dr.
LeCorgne that drinking beer and alcohol eased his pain but he
continued to obtain narcotic medication from Dr. Blanda. He
complained of unrelenting back pain yet sought a prescription
for Viagra for erectile dysfunction. Even at trial,
Thibodeaux wore his back brace for one day despite Dr.
Blanda's order that he discontinue use in order to build
the muscles in his back.
the court turns to findings regarding Thibodeaux's
emotional and mental state. The only evidence presented was
from Thibodeaux's treating psychologist, Dr. LeCorgne.
Dr. LeCorgne began treating Thibodeaux on March 3, 2015,
nearly two and a half years after the accident and
approximately six months prior to the trial date pending at
that time. Though Dr. Blanda suggested that Thibodeaux speak
to someone about his reported depressed mood, Thibodeaux
failed to follow that advice until his attorney set up an
appointment. Dr. LeCorgne was selected by Thibodeaux's
attorney, and he saw Thibodeaux a total of 24 times (prior to
trial). He diagnosed Thibodeaux with Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder and depression related to the October 1, 2012
accident. He considered Thibodeaux's emotional state to
be "stable" and his prognosis to be fair as it was
tied to his "variable" physical state. As of the
trial date, he thought an additional six to nine months of
therapy on a once a month basis would benefit Thibodeaux in
his continued recovery.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW