AUSTIN – The Texas Supreme Court will review a case to decide if an oil rig worker who received approximately $9.6 million in damages from injuries sustained on the job deserved the award after a video that had been rejected by a trial court as evidence allegedly showed the man doing physical labor free of pain.
The court granted the petition on Sept. 1. Oral arguments will be held Thursday, Dec. 7.
Willie David Williams sued Diamond Offshore Services in 2011 after he allegedly sustained spinal injuries while working on an oil rig elevator off the coast of Egypt in 2008. Williams underwent surgeries in 2008 and 2009 to correct the injuries, but claimed the procedures were not successful and as a result he was totally disabled and unable to work.
The Texas high court agreed to hear a motion made by Diamond Offshore Services LTD, a Houston-based offshore oil drilling company, to review the decision by an appeals court in 2015. An appellate court upheld an earlier trial court judgment awarding the damages and refusing as evidence a video film that oil company attorneys maintained is key to the case.
In 2012, an investigator hired by Diamond Offshore filmed Williams allegedly performing work at another site that involved bending and lifting. The defendants said the film showed Williams was able to work and thus not deserving of the settlement he received.
Diamond Offshore Services filed a time extension in the case and then a petition for a review of the appeals court decision (and the damages award) in 2016.
In April, Diamond Offshore asked for a second time extension to makes replies on the merits to its case and again the Supreme Court of Texas granted the request, but this was the last extension to be allowed by the high court.
In June, the company presented its reply brief in its defense claiming that the trial court erred in not taking the video as evidence, and in fact members of the jury did not even view the film.
“This court (Texas Supreme Court) should make clear the trial court’s obligation when ruling on a 403 objection to visual evidence,” the defendant's June 6 reply brief read.
Diamond Offshore also alleged the trial court mistakenly made a discretionary ruling on the case without balancing the proper interests and that Williams had contradicted documents and witness testimony in claiming that his injury occurred because his work was “rushed” by supervisors, the reply brief stated.
Attorneys for Williams countered that Diamond Offshore caused Williams to suffer a severe spinal injury after elevators on the oil rig failed to work properly and because the company negligently neglected them. Williams was allegedly told to fix an elevator quickly with no time for a proper job-safety analysis beforehand.
“Williams had worked offshore for two decades, including over a decade with Diamond,” according to Williams' brief on the merits filed April 13. “He (Williams) was told to fix the elevator 'by any means necessary,'" and he manipulated it as "best he could and got it working, but "maneuvering the elevator alone in that position it was too much for his spine.”