Seamen settles Jones Act lawsuit against the Midnight Rider

By Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau | Sep 24, 2007

TEXARKANA, Texas -- Seaman Jacob Robichaux settled his Jones Act lawsuit against the "unseaworthy" Midnight Rider vessel, Helix Energy Solutions Group, Cal Dive International and Mariner Energy, Inc. on Sept. 8.

Houston mediator Louis P. Selig conducted the successful mediation between all parties, with all issues of the case reaching settlement. U.S. District Judge David Folsom ordered a judgment dismissing the action without prejudice on Sept. 18.

At the time of the incident, Robichaux was employed by Helix Energy Solutions as a crewmember and seamen on the Midnight Rider vessel, a pipelaying barge operating offshore of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.

While in the course of his employment, Robichaux states he sustained injuries to his mind, back, and neck in an accident occurring on April 30, 2006. The Mississippi resident states the "unseaworthiness" of the Midnight Rider caused his injuries. Robichaux filed the suit under the Jones Act in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas on August 29, 2006.

According to the court records, Helix Energy Solutions and Cal Dive contributed to plaintiff's injuries through negligence in failing to safely operate the vessel, supervise and train the crew, including failing to give instructions, warnings, and proper equipment to crewmembers. Further, the plaintiff asserts negligence through the defendants Helix and Cal Dive's failure to keep the vessel under control, maintain the vessel, failing to avoid the plaintiff's accident or heed adverse weather, not preparing accurate accident reports and "pressing plaintiff and others to downplay the seriousness of the accident or plaintiff's injuries."

Allegations of negligence against Defendant Mariner include failing to properly inspect and identify deficient conditions on the Midnight Rider, failing to heed weather or stop due to dangerous conditions, placing completion of the work above the safety of the vessel's crew, and "applying economic pressure to defendants Helix and Cal Dive."

Recently, Judge Folsom granted defendant Helix Energy's motion to transfer venue to the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas. Within the order on June 12, Judge Folsom found it "less convenient" for the Eastern District to hear the litigation. Issues supporting the transfer of the case included the expense of witness attendance and other trial related expenses, the incident location, and the local interest and burdens of jury trial.

In response to the order transferring venue, plaintiff Robichaux argued the case should remain in the Texarkana Division due to the nonissue of jury trial in admiralty cases, how the incident did not occur in either the Southern or Eastern District, and the expectation that the Galveston division's "heavy docket" would lead to a 10-12 month trial postponement.

Prior to settlement negotiations, Robichaux sought $5 million in damages for loss of wages, earning capacity, physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of found and other related expenses.

Representing the plaintiff as lead attorney is Nicholas Patton of the Texarkana law firm Patton, Tidwell, and Schroeder. Also representing plaintiff are Houston attorneys W. Mark Lanier, Charles Herd, Jr., and Lawrence Wilson of the Lanier Law firm and New Orleans attorneys Randy Ungar and Kristi Post of the law firm Ungar and Bryne.

The parties have not disclosed the amount of the settlement.

Case No.: 5:06cv00217

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