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The Echoes of the Deepwater Horizon Incident & Its Effect on Maritime Law


Posted in Case Studies and Successes, High Seas, High Risk: Offshore Injury on January 15, 2018


There are few things in life that can be as difficult as becoming involved in a maritime personal injury lawsuit. The Texas maritime lawyers at Lapeze & Johns have over 35 years of experience in maritime suits and personal injury, and we have learned that the complexity of this field of law requires the guidance of competent and trustworthy experts.

A close look at one particularly noteworthy case can help shed some light on the types of problems a case can bring.

The Deepwater Horizon Incident

Though it may not be the most recent tragedy in the collective national memory, the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010, had certain ramifications that continue to be felt today. On that tragic day, eleven maritime workers on the rig lost their lives and the two BP supervisors on-site began a legal journey that became a landmark decision for the rights of offshore oil employees.

Bob Kaluza and Don Vidrine were indicted on eleven counts of manslaughter and seaman’s manslaughter. This little-known law dated all the way back to 1838 and was designed to hold captains of steamboats accountable for actions that happened on their vessels.

As it was passed before the first oil wells were ever drilled on land or offshore, this law had never been used against anyone working on a rig. The contention on whether it applied or not in this particular case owed to the fact that the Deepwater Horizon was a drilling rig and (technically) a seagoing vessel. This would mean that it fell under the regulation of certain maritime laws.

The attorneys for Kaluza maintained that Kaluza, as a BP employee, was not a member of the ship’s crew but a member of the drilling operation. The presiding judge sided with this and declared that Kaluza and other members of the drilling team were not maritime employees.

Vidrine eventually accepted a plea agreement on a charge of water pollution and Kaluza was eventually acquitted of all charges in early 2016 after many setbacks to the government’s legal case and years of insisting he had no part in the accident.

Impact and Outlook

Despite the impact this case had on defining the rights and status of offshore workers in relation to the law, things can still be unclear for these employees.

One of the main reasons these types of accidents are precarious for workers is that many companies operate under “stop-work authority”. This gives any worker the ability to stop working the moment they feel it is unsafe for them and their co-workers.

However, there are two main drawbacks to this “power”:

1.The high cost of drilling, which can rise past $1 million a day on a deepwater well, removes almost all possibility that a worker will be able to exercise their right to stop unsafe operations.
2.This rule is also employed by high-ranking employees to hang the blame on employees at lower levels in accidents by pointing out that they failed to stop work.

In the Deepwater Horizon accident, neither defendant made an attempt to stop drilling operations and so the charges fell on them.

In the seven years since this case, no workers in an offshore accident have faced criminal charges. In particular, the seaman’s manslaughter charge has not become a regular part of the legal proceedings in these types of situations.

As this one memorable case illustrates, there are a number of factors to take into consideration when determining how to resolve maritime legal issues. It is not something that a victim of a maritime accident should tackle alone.

Lapeze & Johns have recovered millions of dollars for the victims of maritime accidents and offshore injuries. A proven history of success and achieving excellent results is what sets Lapeze & Johns apart from the others.

Lapeze & Johns has the experience you need and results you can rely on if you or someone you know is dealing with a situation involving maritime injury. Contact us today at 713-999-6532 for our Texas maritime and offshore injury attorneys to help you get your life back on track.