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Louviere v. W & T Offshore Inc.

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

March 26, 2018





         Pending before this Court is the motion for partial summary judgment that was filed by the plaintiff, Jeffrey P. Louviere, with regard to his own comparative fault and the fault of third parties and non-parties to the suit. (Rec. Doc. 49). The motion is opposed. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is DENIED.


         On June 8, 2015, the plaintiff, Jeffrey P. Louviere, was employed by Living Quarters Technology[1] (“LQT”) as an HVAC technician, and he was assigned by his employer to perform maintenance on an air conditioning unit located at Ship Shoal 349-A, a fixed platform that was owned and operated by defendant W&T Offshore, Inc. It is undisputed that the platform was located on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, and Mr. Louviere claims that he was injured when he fell down a flight of stairs on the platform's heliport. Accordingly, Louisiana law applies to this lawsuit, as surrogate federal law, pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, particularly 43 U.S.C. § 1333(a)(2)(A).

         At the time of the accident, W&T owned and operated the platform and was conducting ongoing oil and gas production activities. Drilling activities from the platform had ceased, and the drilling rig that was on the platform - H&P Rig 107 - was “warm stacked.” The drilling rig was owned by Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company (“H&P”), and pursuant to an agreement between W&T and H&P, only a three-man H&P skeleton crew remained on board the platform to maintain the rig. Both the platform and the rig had heliports, but only the heliport on the rig was used while the rig was on the platform. Therefore, all persons entering onto or leaving from the platform were required to use the stairs that connected the heliport and the platform.

         At the top of the stairs leading to the heliport was a hinged liftgate. The liftgate usually stayed in a closed position, blocking access from the stairs to the heliport. When a helicopter landed and personnel had to travel from the heliport to the platform or vice versa, the liftgate would be swung upwards and then locked open by inserting a pin through the arm of the liftgate. In the upright position, the liftgate formed a handrail.

         When drilling operations were being conducted by H&P, a designated helicopter landing officer (“HLO”) employed by H&P met all incoming flights, opened the liftgate at the top of the stairs leading to the heliport, assisted personnel with their baggage, and then closed the liftgate. When H&P's rig was “warm stacked, ” however, the H&P medic who functioned as the HLO was no longer assigned to work on the platform, and no one else was formally designated as the HLO. Because his usual work station was near the heliport, H&P's crane operator, Roy Surber, usually acted as the HLO.

         On June 3, 2015, W&T's compliance inspector, Dennis Abshire, flew out to the platform. No. one met him when he landed. He told the person in charge (“PIC”) of the platform, W&T's employee Chris Wiesendanger, that the configuration of the liftgate and the lack of an HLO presented safety concerns.[2]

         Just five days later, the plaintiff and Thomas Watts, another HVAC technician with LQT, flew out to the platform. That morning, the crane operator was working on the pipe rack and was not able to meet the helicopter. Therefore, he radioed Mr. Wiesendanger, advised that he could not act as the HLO, and Mr. Wiesendanger assigned W&T employee Andrew Davies to fill that role. Mr. Davies claimed that he had never previously opened the liftgate and did not know that a pin had to be used to keep the liftgate in the upright position.[3] It is undisputed that Mr. Davies opened the liftgate but did not lock it in place.[4]

         Mr. Watts started down the stairs from the heliport to the platform ahead of the plaintiff. He did not use the open liftgate as a handrail.[5] Before he reached the bottom of the fifteen-step flight of stairs, Mr. Watts heard a loud noise and was then struck from behind when the plaintiff fell down the stairs and crashed into his back.[6]The plaintiff testified at his deposition that he had his clothes bag in his left hand and his tool bag on his back; therefore, as he started down the stairs, he placed his right hand on the open liftgate to use it as a handrail.[7] As he did so, the liftgate closed and caused him to fall down the stairs, with his right leg beneath him, [8] in a position he compared to a baseball slide.[9] He slid into Mr. Watts.

         The plaintiff and Mr.Watts immediately reported the incident to Mr. Wiesendanger. At that time, Mr. Abshire was also in W&T's office with Mr. Wiesendanger.[10] Mr. Abshire and Mr. Wiesendanger investigated the incident[11] and quickly learned that Mr. Davies had not pinned the liftgate in the open position.

         The plaintiff claims that he was injured in the fall. He sued W&T, W&T's insurer, and H&P. By means of the pending motion, the plaintiff seeks to be absolved of responsibility for causing the incident. He seeks a finding that neither he nor any party other than W&T or H&P is comparatively at fault.


         A.The Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[12] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[13]

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[14] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[15] All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[16]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[17] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[18]

         B. The Relief Sought in the Plaintiff's Motion

         W&T argued that the plaintiff's motion “asks this Court to summarily determine that both defendants are at fault.”[19] This Court disagrees. While the plaintiff contends that both W&T and H&P were at fault in causing the incident, the motion currently before this Court does not seek a ruling with regard to the fault of any defendant. Only the comparative fault of the plaintiff, third parties, and non-parties is currently before this Court.[20]

         C. The Motion is Not Procedurally Improper

         W&T argued that the plaintiff's motion is procedurally improper because its resolution would not adjudicate the fault of all parties. But motions for summary judgment are routinely filed by defendants in multi-party cases and resolved by the court, and none of the cases cited by W&T in support of this argument are binding on this Court. If a defendant can establish that it is free from fault before trial, as is commonly done, then it is ...

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