Appellate court reverses dismissal of chemical burn suit against Diamond Offshore

By Carrie Bradon | May 21, 2018

HOUSTON – The 14th Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a decision in a seaman's injury case over a clause in his employment contract.

HOUSTON – The 14th Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a decision in a seaman's injury case over a clause in his employment contract.

The court reached its decision May 15.

William Black had appealed the trial court's dismissal of his injury claims against Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., Diamond Offshore Drilling LTD and Diamond Offshore Co. on allegations that the decision of the trial court was incorrect in "determining that non-signatory appellees could enforce the forum-selection clause contained in his employment contract."

Black, a citizen of the United Kingdom, alleges that he was injured in 2015 while working for Diamond Offshore Drilling LTD. Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., Diamond Offshore Drilling LTD and Diamond Offshore Co. are the owners of the Ocean Valiant, a vessel on which the plaintiff was working on Jan. 2, 2015, when the incident allegedly took place.

Black alleges that while working on the vessel, which was stationed at a shipyard in Spain for repairs, he sat on a chemical container marked "corrosive" and suffered severe chemical burns to his buttocks.

Following the incident, Black filed an amended petition in Harris County on June 8, 2016, which included "theories of negligence and unseaworthiness in accordance with the Jones Act and general duties imposed by common law (general maritime law) against appellees Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., Diamond Offshore Drilling LTD and Diamond Offshore General Co."

The defendants maintain their principal place of business in Houston.

Later, Black amended his petition, adding both Diamond Rig Investments LTD and appellee Diamond Bermuda.

On Aug. 1, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that "as non-signatories, they can enforce the forum-selection clause in the agreement between Diamond Bermuda and appellant because they are 'closely enough related to the signatory and the transaction.'"

They also stated that Black's original and first amended original petitions "have virtually identical allegations of negligence and fault against the sole signatory Diamond Bermuda, and the non-signatory defendants participated in substantially-interdependent and concerted misconduct," the opinion states.

The defendant's non-signatory motion to dismiss was granted by the trial court on Dec. 5, 2016.

Black argued that the trial court "abused its discretion in determining that the non-signatory defendants could enforce the forum-selection clause contained in appellant’s employment contract," and argues that the non-signatory defendants did not show that they were "transactional participants," therefore disqualifying them from using "transactional participant doctrine to enforce the forum-selection clause."

The case was heard by Justices John Donovan, Brett Busby and Martha Hill Jamison.

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