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In re Parker Drilling Offshore USA, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

February 27, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF PARKER DRILLING OFFSHORE USA, LLC AS THE OWNER AND OWNER PRO HAC VICE OF THE M/V MR. E.J. FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY

          CAROL WHITEHURST, MAG. JUDGE

          RULING

          DEE D. DRELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the court is a claim for maintenance and cure brought by plaintiff Wilbert Mays ("Mays") against Parker Drilling Offshore, USA, LLC ("Parker Drilling"), pursuant to the Jones Act, 49 U.S.C. §30104, and general maritime law of the United States, 28 U.S.C. §1333. Mayes seeks damages for injuries he sustained on November 26, 2013 while aboard a Parker Drilling crewboat, the M.R. E.J. Mayes designates his claims as admiralty or maritime claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h); thus, jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1333.

         A bench trial was held before the undersigned on March 6, 2017 to decide issues related to quantum - fault, medical causation and actual damages, if any - for alleged injuries arising from an accident that occurred on November 26, 2013.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mays, a deckhand with Parker Drilling, finished his fourteen day shift on November 26, 2013. He and several others boarded the M.R.E.J. crewboat for transport to the Tidewater Dock. Upon boarding, Mays sat on the first bench directly behind the partition wall separating the benches from the captain's seat. Sometime thereafter, Mays fell asleep.

         At approximately 6:20 p.m., while in transit in the Intracoastal Waterway, the M.R. E. J. collided with a crane barge, the MISS SUNSHINE, which was in tow by the M/V TDW.[1] The force of the collision threw Mays off of the bench and into the partition, causing it to collapse.

         The M.R. E.J. ultimately made its way to the dock in LaRose, Louisiana where emergency medical personnel waited to evaluate those aboard. Mays complained of head and left knee pain but denied any back or leg pain. Emergency personnel performed a Glascow Coma Scale assessment on three separate occasions to determine the level of Mays' consciousness, and each time he scored a perfect 15/15, indicating no consciousness impairment at the time.

         Mays was transported to Ochsner - St. Anne's Hospital ("St. Anne's") in Raceland, Louisiana for further evaluation. He presented at St. Anne's with complaints of pain to the left side of his face and his left knee. He denied any loss of consciousness, and, again, scored a 15/15 on the Glascow Coma Scale evaluation. A CT scan of his head showed no evidence of an intracranial bleed or facial fracture, and a CT of his neck showed mild to moderate degenerative changes of his cervical spine.[2] An x-ray of his knee showed significant arthritic issues, and the x-ray of his pelvis showed mild degenerative changes in his sacroiliac and hip joints bilaterally.

         Mays was released from St. Anne's that evening with a diagnosis of a contusion involving his left knee, face, scalp and neck. He was given prescriptions for Flexeril for muscle spasm and Tramadol for pain. Following his release, Mays stayed overnight at the home of a friend and the following day, drove himself home to Jonesville, Louisiana.

         Shortly thereafter, Mays engaged the assistance of his attorney, who referred Mays to Dr. Gerald Leglue, Jr., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician in Alexandria, Louisiana, for evaluation. Dr. Leglue began treating Mays on December 3, 2013, for complaints of face and jaw pain, headaches, dizziness and pain in his neck, left shoulder, lower back and left knee. Over the course of treatment, Dr. Leglue also referred Mays to several other physicians for evaluation and input.

         Dr. Terry Texada, an orthopedist in Alexandria, Louisiana, began treating Mays on December 9, 2013, for the injuries to his left knee. Dr. Texada reviewed the x-ray taken on the date of the accident and conducted a physical exam. Dr. Texada found Mays suffered from preexisting degenerative joint disease, questionable meniscal pathology, and a possible ligament injury. He drained serous fluid from Mays' knee and referred him for an MRI.

         The MRI, conducted on December 12, 2013, confirmed the degenerative joint disease and a torn meniscus. Dr. Texada performed arthroscopic surgery on January 20, 2014, to address the torn meniscus and as much of the degenerative changes as he could. He continued to treat Mays post-operatively through April 21, 2014, at which time he advised Mays there was nothing more he could do to address the existing degenerative changes to his knee.

         Dr. George Williams, an orthopedic surgeon in Opelousas, Louisiana, began treating Mays on March 18, 2014, for lumbar and cervical spine pain resulting from pre-existing moderate to severe degenerative disc disease and stenosis. In addition to degenerative disc disease, Dr. Williams diagnosed Mays with a herniated nucleus pulposus at C5-C6, radiculopathy, spondylosis in his cervical spine as well as pain and spondylosis in his lumbar spine and he ultimately recommended a cervical discectomy and fusion based primarily upon Mays' complaints of pain.

         Mays continued to see Dr. Williams off and on through February 2017. As of September 2016, Mays reported pain in his lumbar spine when lying down but he did not report any more cervical pain once he began receiving injections. Records from that September 2016 visit and his follow up visit in January 2017 reveal Mays walked with a normal heel toe gait but he continued to complain of lumbar pain at rest. However, he made no complaints of cervical pain until he returned in February 2017.

         During much of this same time period, Mays also sought the advice of Dr. Mortenza Shamsnia, a neurologist in Metairie, Louisiana. Mays' initial appointment with Dr. Shamsnia was in May 2014. Based upon a physical exam conducted on the first day, Dr. Shamsnia diagnosed Mays with "posttraumatic headaches, memory loss, neck pain and low back pain, and dizziness." Though Dr. Shamsnia "need[ed] to review [Mays'] medical records in detail", he never obtained any medical records from the date of the accident nor prior imaging records, with the exception of an April 2014, MRI of Mays' lumbar spine. Nevertheless, Dr. Shamsnia diagnosed Mays with a "postconcussion syndrome with memory loss and attention deficit."

         On December 14, 2016, over three years after the accident, Mays underwent a high resolution MRI of his brain. From that, Dr. Shamsnia opined Mays suffered a traumatic head injury on the date of the accident as evidenced by brain atrophy from a prior hemorrhage in the left caudate nucleus of the brain. Dr. Shamsnia further opined that this injury was consistent with Mays having experienced persistent headaches, memory loss, and mood changes and his prognosis was quite poor as the symptoms would likely worsen over time and ultimately result in early onset dementia and impaired cognitive function.

         Dr. Shamsnia's records further reveal he treated Mays for insomnia, anxiety, and depression following initial psychological treatment rendered by James Quillen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Alexandria, Louisiana. Treatment records from Dr. Quillen indicate he treated Mays throughout most of 2015 for post-traumatic stress disorder with depressive features, possible mild post concussive features by history, dysfunctional pain adjustment with secondary adaptive features, and intermittent explosive symptomology. During his visits, Mays consistently complained about being depressed but reported his nightmares and explosive outburst were managed by the medications prescribed by Dr. Quillen.

         At trial, Mays again reported changes in his mood and that he experienced nightmares he attributed to the accident. He complained of chronic cervical and lumbar pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, permanent and persistent pain in his left knee that restricted his mobility, and a serious, permanent brain injury which resulted in headaches and memory loss that he was told would progress over time.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         a. Maintenance and Cure

         "Maintenance and cure is a contractual form of compensation afforded by the general maritime law to seaman who fall ill or are injured while in the service of a vessel." Jauch v. Nautical Servs., Inc., 470 F.3d 207, 212 (5th Cir.2006) citing McCorpen v. Cent. Gulf. S.S. Corp., 396 F.2d 547, 548 (5th Cir. 1968). An employer has an obligation to provide maintenance and cure when a seaman is injured on a vessel regardless of fault. There is no dispute that Mays is a seaman and entitled to maintenance and cure. The issue before the court is whether he is owed any additional amounts and, if so, whether Parker Drilling willfully failed to pay those amounts.

         i. ...


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